The Two Emphases of Matthew and Luke on the Compassion and Justice Of God in the Sermon on the Mount

I have been asking God for wisdom when looking at our Lords teachings.  The SM (SM = Sermon on the Mount) are some of the most profound teachings for living the life of faith.  I was asking my self the question why is the mood and feeling of the SM so different in Matthew and Luke whilst it is the same teaching?

I think that this is a very important question.  The greatest preacher who ever lived was God who became a man in the person of Jesus Christ yet in this recorded sermon by Matthew and Luke, they are so different.  As I was typing and pondering these thought it dawned on me that for example; there can be two people who hear a sermon, but each person will pick something different out of the same sermon and interpret it differently, yet it was the same sermon!

Jesus gave a sermon and there were two people who heard or read about it (Matthew and Luke).  They walked away with different interpretations, but the husk of the sermon is still the same.  This is the main reason I felt it important to try to pick out some salient features from these two Gospels.  When I have completed picking out the salient features I will continue going through the text.

The Salient Features of the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew writes over 111 verses on the Sermon on the mount.  Luke writes about 25 verses and then Luke at the end of his beatitudes adds the woes.  So, the question for me is; What is driving these writers to write so differently on these passages?

I just recently acquired a commentary on Luke’s Gospel by one of my University Lecturers Judith Lieu.  It is the best answer I have found so far as she writes:

“That God is rich in compassion is fundamental to the OT (Ex. 34.6); whereas Leviticus had called for holiness (Lev. 19.2), and Matthew for perfection (Matt. 5.48), in likeness to God, for Luke the divine norm is to be compassionate. This means – v.36 should be taken with vv.37-38 not to judge, or condemn, but to pardon and give in abundance. Again there is no reflection on the certainty that God will judge, nor on the circumstances in which judgment is necessary. These are not maxims to be applied generally without discrimination; they explore what it means to say love your enemies, and, in a world where reciprocity was the norm which bound some together and separated others, explore an alternative model of relationships.” (From the Gospel of Luke; Judith Lieu; page 52 Epworth Commentaries)

As Dr Lieu says Compassion is fundamental to the Old Testament:

6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; Exodus 34:6

Dr Lieu also quoted Leviticus 19.2:

2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Leviticus 19:2

It is interesting that she chose these two passages because I got an email from the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust in which Rabbi Sacks reminded us of some important things here:

    “Ex. 34:6-7

This passage became known as the “Thirteen Attributes of God’s Mercy.”

The Sages understood this episode as the moment in which God taught Moses, and through him all future generations, how to pray when atoning for sin (Rosh Hashanah 17b). Moses himself used these words with slight variations during the next crisis, that of the spies. Eventually they became the basis of the special prayers known as Selichot, prayers of penitence. It was as if God were binding himself to forgive the penitent in each generation by this self-definition.[1] God is compassionate and lives in love and forgiveness. This is an essential element of Jewish faith.

But there is a caveat. God adds: “Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.” There is a further clause about visiting the sins of the parents upon the children which demands separate attention and is not our subject here. The caveat tells us that there is forgiveness but also punishment. There is compassion but also justice.

Why so? Why must there be justice as well as compassion, punishment as well as forgiveness? The Sages said:

 “When God created the universe, He did so under the attribute of justice, but then saw it could not survive. What did He do? He added compassion to justice and created the world.”

    See Rashi to Genesis 1:1.

This statement prompts the same question. Why did God not abandon justice altogether? Why is forgiveness alone not enough?”

So then compassion and holiness are important things that God is really interested in and from my point of view it shows how these to lines of theology; namely compassion and holiness work together.  So then let us now look at the next two quotes from Dr Lieu:

Matthew says,

48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Luke says,

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Luke 6:36-38

Reflection

So then Rabbi Sacks and Dr Judith Lieu have taught us two important strands found in the Old Testament (The late Rabbi Sacks) and the SM (Judith Lieu).   I have a lot of respect for these two profound teachers of the Bible. Anyhow for me this is a profound and accurate answer for understanding the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and why they seem so different on the surface.  So then perhaps as I continue now in the Sermon on the Mount, we needs to take these differences in our stride and our walk of faith. 

Next time I will return to the Sermon on the Mount and start to inquire with what our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ wants us to understand.   

I feel that we are now armed with the keys to the SM.  We will be able to unlock these spiritual truths and grow closer to our Lord and Saviour and also have more compassion for our neighbours no matter what their background, race, religion et al.

I hope that you will follow me on this quest for finding Gods Truths about Himself, the Trinitarian God that we worship.

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