Is Morality the Goal?

I found this quote today, attributed to Gandhi:

“The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole. If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, ‘Oh, yes, I am a Christian.’ But negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount.”    ~Mohandas Gandhi

I really like this quote (and other similar things he said). Gandhi seemed fairly adept at calling a spade a spade when it comes to the hypocrisies of Western Christianity. In that regard, I am totally with him. From an outsider’s perspective it sums up pretty well how we Christians aren’t quite living up to Jesus’ call, and have headed down our own paths to the Kingdom of God enough that the term “Christian” tends to call to mind someone pretty well opposite of the kind of person the Sermon on the Mount describes.

On the other hand, I think in saying this he may be understating Jesus’ message. The Sermon on the Mount is a picture of how followers of Jesus should live, a personal and cultural code of conduct showing them how to relate to God and be the “light of the world”, a people who embody God’s love on the earth. Jesus was calling a new people out from Israel just as the Mosaic Law called Israel out from the nations. (To be fair, Jesus was calling all of Israel, whoever would listen to him.)

But to say Jesus’ message ended there misses the point I think. I am thinking (and rethinking) through many of these things, but here is where I am at right now. Jesus didn’t just say “here is how to live, now everyone go do it,” he actually showed the way, which involves a whole lot of humility, holding your tongue, and putting yourself after other people, among other things. And, most importantly, Jesus went first down the path through death and resurrection. The promise of his teachings isn’t just a moral and loving society but a world reconciled to God in a complete and permanent way. His message in the Sermon on the Mount (and everywhere else he taught) is “the kingdom of God is here.” His message in the cross and his resurrection is “follow me to enter it.” His actions paved the way for everyone else to follow, and somehow provided the ability for us to do it.

This is an incomplete thought right now. Jesus made statements and actions that I think pointed to himself as inexorably connected with his message but I am still sorting those out. And then there is the question of why he seemed to knowingly march straight into the custody of his murderers as if his death was not just inevitable, but chosen and necessary. In any case, he doesn’t seem to consider himself as just a moral teacher, but something more than that, and by extension he wouldn’t consider his teachings to be separable from his life.

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  1. Benjamin Owens
    December 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Aw heck yeah! Now THAT is what I call a post! I have heard that Ghandi post and frankly, it is quite offensive to me. Ghandi clearly did not understand Jesus’ message. He understood that Jesus called us to a lifestyle change, but so do many religions (Hindu included). Being a definition is not based upon WHAT we change, but rather WHY we do so – out of love and indebtedness to our savior. Do you think those people on Jesus’ mount walked away with changed lives? Doubtful – just another message from yet another prophet from the countryside. Do you think their lives changed upon the moment that they learned Jesus had come back from the dead, and they reflected back to his sermon? You betcha.

    • Anonymous
      October 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      I would have to agree with Ghandi on this point. So many people in this world claim to be one religion or another and yet do not practice that said religion. In my opinion Christendom is one of the biggest offenders. No wonder Mr. Ghandi refused to become a Christian. Jesus himself said at Matt. 7:25-20 that there would be “false Christians” bearing false fruit, apparently the kind that Mr. Ghandi ran into. He also said that that his true followers would be known by their “fruits”. What fruits are these you may ask? None other than the fruitages of the spirit mentioned at Gal. 5:22-24.
      The apostle Paul said that the “greatest of these is love” at 1 Cor. 13:13. Certainly what Mr. Ghandi faced by so-called Christians was not the love spoken about in the Bible. It is a shame that so many in Christendom in particular do not practice what they preach, or what they profess to preach. But Ghandi was right about one thing, adhering to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would make the world a much better place to live.

      an assassin’s bullet cut his life short before he could begin to see a small group of his fellow countrymen embrace true Christianity and begin ti display those fruitages of the spirit

      • October 11, 2012 at 10:16 am

        I think you’re absolutely right – that’s sort of my point here, that while Ghandi’s observation is unfortunately accurate, it misses the point of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus’ message is not “contained in the Sermon on the Mount” as Ghandi says; it’s contained in his entire life. He wasn’t just saying “live better lives,” he was saying “follow me.”

        So being a Christian is not just trying to live a better life according to the Sermon on the Mount (which we are all obviously failing to do), it’s the fact that Jesus went first and made it possible.

        Which is all fine to say, but it’s meaningless without actively looking for his lead in daily life. I’d throw out there that people who do that – actively try to engage with him about life on a regular basis – are more likely to live like you and I might expect Christians to live than the majority who say they are Christian but as you said, don’t practice it.

  2. Jade
    November 26, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Jesus, Ghandi…? A couple of useless blabbermouths.

    They were telling everyone else to be quiet, yet they were telling people what to do. And Ghandi helped to make Indians weaker. Jesus has done so with any place that has ever had “Christianity” thrust upon it.

    Go to hell…quite frankly.

  3. November 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Hi Jade – I sent you a response via email. Thanks for dropping by the blog.

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