Roy Bell’s second talk on The Sermon on the Mount (or the Everest of Ethical Teaching) reminded us that Jesus ‘raised the bar’ with his teachings, redefining ‘righteousness’ by saying it is not just what one does but also what one thinks, or why one acts in certain ways.
The Gospel is bigger than ethics, going beyond just ethical behaviour. In Petersons’s translation of the Golden Rule we are told to ask ourselves what we want people to do for us, and then grab the initiative and do it for them. Roy then spoke briefly on Matthew 6:16 on fasting, noting that it is expected that we will fast (and therefore not commanded), but that the fasting is supposed to transform us inwardly, not be seen outwardly. Foster calls it the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity (fasting is far simpler than the spiritual activity). Jesus briefly mentions forgiveness (6:14) as a requirement, but must we ‘forgive on demand’? Perhaps we are in too big a hurry to require forgiveness? First, we should recognise the injury, the emotions involved, set boundaries, etc., but not use ‘forced forgiveness’ as a hammer to beat people already deeply hurt. Finally he mentioned anxiety (fear, dread, being in danger of being unable to function). When anxiety takes over in life, it becomes a spiritual issue. The New Testament does not wish to add to our anxiety about God by raising expectations we can never fulfil, rather, it reminds us of the possibility of our being more like God. [JEK]