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.
10 Things I Hate About Me, or, The 21-Step Program, in Which Is Examined the Command to “Be Perfect”
I’ve had several conversations this week about a sermon I didn’t hear, or rather a topic addressed in the sermon, specifically a challenge the speaker had taken on for himself based on a principle which in truth is not a new idea to me, nor to modern mankind in general, as, according to the vast cloud knowledge of Wikipedia, it was first written about 50 years ago and since repeatedly referenced and revered throughout the self help industry by gurus like Zig Ziglar. (I don’t have much idea who he is beyond name recognition, but it’s such a silly name I had to write it down. Zig Ziglar. Say it out loud to someone out of context and you will see.) The principle under discussion is the idea that a habit is formed (or unformed) in 21 days, and the conversations I’ve lately had have been of the very specific and practical sort, as in, “Hey, let’s pick a habit and change it in 21 days.” The examples in the sermon were complaining, criticism and gossiping – how each of those is defined and exactly why it is undesirable enough to spend weeks changing is certainly up for negotiation. But the 21-day idea, as those more learned than I have demonstrated, is a sticky one.
So after just recently spending 1000 words describing how impossible the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are simply to practice, I’ve decided to try and put them to practice, or at least some of them, or at least one of them which essentially includes all of them: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
That’s right, 21 Days to a Perfect You. Or me, that is. And by perfect, I’m thinking changed, and by changed, I’m thinking in one particular way at a time. So perhaps not perfect in 21 days, but it wouldn’t be a self-help program if in the end it didn’t deliver anywhere near what it promised. The point perhaps is that though I’m not intending to go through the Sermon on the Mount point by point, there are certain habits, certain responses and attitudes I’ve picked up over the last several years, and others that have been with me quite a while, that have not exactly made me a better me, and I believe I’d like to change them now, one at a time.
I didn’t hear the sermon (the one that is the subject of conversation, that is, not the Sermon on the Mount, though I didn’t hear that one either), and I haven’t read any of the eminent self-help tomes, so don’t call this method well-researched, but the idea is this: Pick a habit and don’t do it for 21 days. Start over if you mess up. Simple; hopefully effective. As one friend of mine pointed out, doing it this way could of course take three years if you keep screwing up. And perhaps by then I would have quit, though I would at least be more practiced.
It’s not the most original idea, and not the most profound. But sometimes what it takes is a reminder, and a few people to do it with. Actually, for me that is often what it takes.