The Sermon on the Mount is the single largest teaching of our Lord Jesus. It is thick with content; it contains the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and meditations on the relationship between the old covenant Law of Moses and the new covenant. It is a teaching that was relevant to major figures of history. Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr may have based their teachings of non-violent social protest on the Sermon.
Throughout history, there have been many interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount; some good and others distorted. This is why it is so important to have a clear Orthodox interpretation. And that is what Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev offers in The Sermon on the Mount, Volume II of his series, Jesus Christ: His Life & Teaching. This is truly a unique work: few have this length and detail.
Alfeyev offers a comprehensive historical context as well as the traditional interpretations that have been offered by modern scholars. But he doesn’t just simply accept or reject but gives the reasons why. He clearly sets out what is in accordance with Church tradition and what is not.
Interestingly, he not only writes at length about the original Greek of the text but can also deal with the original Aramaic, the language of our Lord and one that Alfeyev is knowledgeable in. Moreover, he deals with the most pertinent questions about the Sermon, as he does in this passage:
The moral radicalism of the Sermon on the Mount has often puzzled commentators. How realistic were Jesus’ calls to spiritual perfection? For example, could a man absolutely never look at a woman with lust? How is it possible to offer one’s left cheek in response to being struck on the right cheek? Is a person able to love his or her enemies? How is it possible to live without storing up any sort of treasure on earth? The impression might arise that the Sermon is addressed to some abstract superhuman who lacks normal earthly desires, passions, and attachments, or that Jesus is over-idealizing human beings, demanding from them the obvious unachievable. Scholars speak of the “irrational, utopian, and rigoristic injunctions” of the Sermon on the Mount “that often seem out of place in the real world.”
Alfeyev eventually answers all these questions. He writes in a manner accessible to the non-scholar, placing the figure of Jesus Christ in his historical reality while, as bishop, monk, and scholar, he shows us his spiritual depth.
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