The three chapters beginning from 5:1 and ending at 7:29 contain one of the most famous discourses of Matthew, known as “The Sermon on the Mount”. This is the first of the five great discourses in the Gospel of Matthew. Each of the five ends with the phrase, “and when Jesus had finished…” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). The Sermon on the Mount begins by showing Jesus as a Rabbi, teaching ex-cathedra (5:1) and ends by showing Jesus as the Messianic prophet, addressing the crowds (7:28). The Sermon is a composition of Matthew. An analysis of similar texts in the Gospels of Mark and Luke indicate that many verses found here in Matthew are also found in Mark and Luke in different contexts. This does not mean that Jesus did not say these words. It means that Matthew has put them together in this manner. Most are agreed that the theme of the Sermon is found in 5:17-20, in which Jesus speaks about having come, not to abolish but to fulfil the Law and Prophets. He issues a challenge to those listening to let their “righteousness” be greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom. This they will do if they internalize the law rather than if they simply follow it as a set of rules and regulations.
The text of today is from the conclusion of the Sermon. It begins with Jesus stating emphatically that mere words on the part of people, even if one addresses him with lofty titles and fervent pleas, will not gain one entry into the kingdom. Entry into the kingdom is determined by “doing” the Father’s will. Right action is more important than right words.
What it means to do the Father’s will is brought out clearly in the parable of the two builders. The point here, besides action, is one of foresight. The builder who builds his house on sand is doing, at first glance, as well as the one who builds his house on rock. It is only when the rain falls, the storm comes, and the wind blows, that the difference is seen. The house built on rock continues to stand, whereas the one built on sand falls. The wise person represents those who put Jesus' words into practice; they too are building to withstand anything. Those who pretend to have faith, which is a mere intellectual commitment, or who enjoy Jesus in small doses as and when it suits them, are foolish builders. When the storms of life come, their structures fool no one; above all, they do not fool God.
The sermon speaks of grace, but the grace of God is known only in that community committed to doing God’s will, as revealed in Jesus. There can be no calculating “cheap grace.” One must take the Sermon on the Mount seriously as the revealed will of God to be lived. The subject matter of the sermon is not the person of Christ, but the kind of life Christ’s disciples are called to live. One cannot avoid Christology and appeal only to the teaching or great principles of Jesus, for these are inseparable from the claims of his person. But, for Matthew, the converse is also true: “Correct” Christological understanding can never be a substitute for the ethical living to which Jesus calls his disciples. Christology and ethics, like Christology and discipleship, are inseparable for Matthew.
While some regard the Sermon as an ideal to be read and not lived, others see it as being capable of being lived out by only a select few. These kinds of interpretations miss the point. Since the Sermon is addressed to both the disciples and the crowd, there is no doubt that it is meant for all. It is a challenge to be lived out by anyone who professes to be a disciple of Jesus.