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Sermon on the Mount: A Second Look (Text: Matthew 5:27-48)

By William H. Willimon
"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.... You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Some of you remember the uproar when President Jimmy Carter admitted to Playboy that he had committed "adultery in his heart."

Big deal. Show me a man who has never once "looked at a woman lustfully" and thereby committed, in Jesus' words, "adultery with her in his heart," and I will show you a candidate for a new heart. Though Matthew doesn't, I bet the same could be said for the looks and hearts of women.

I remember, as a student in Junior High, my righteous resolution to go through the day without thinking any impure thoughts about the opposite sex (perhaps in a youthful attempt to be faithful to Matthew 5:28). The resolution lasted no longer than my first fifteen minutes on the schoolbus.

Therein I learned the impracticality of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. As you can see, I did not obey and pluck out the eye that caused me to sin. Rather, I took Junior High psychology, wherein I discovered all sorts of psychological reasons why it is utterly unrealistic to expect a normal fourteen-year-old male to be free of lustful eyes, heart, hand or whatever vital organ.

And, in a way, that's what I did with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Did you? I found my psychological explanations for lust; my civil justifications for swearing an oath; the ability to return the blow to the stomach before he again slaps my cheek; and quite easily to say No to "him who would borrow from me." Even No to impecunious relatives and in-laws. This we have come to call "growing up," or "being realistic" about the Sermon on the Mount.

Not that I was always so. I remember the evening we had been visiting in New York when we were students. We had spent the day visiting anything that was free, walking the streets, eating our lunch out of a paper bag to save money. In Grand Central Station, on our way home, a young man came up to me and told me that his wallet had been stolen, that the last train to Albany was leaving, and that he needed ten dollars for a ticket. He would pay me back, he said, as he worked in Albany for IBM.

Perhaps remembering Jesus' words to "Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you," I gave him the ten dollars, the only money I had. That night, when we got off the train, our car wouldn't start. Because I had no money, not even for a telephone call, we had a long, cold walk back to our apartment from the station in New Haven. I was miserable. Of course, the money was never paid back. There was no one by that name with IBM or anybody else in Albany.

I felt like a fool.

Yet at least I was "sadder but wiser." To this day, when approached by panhandlers, beggars, and even relatives, I see that man's face on their face and I think twice. If I had been able to see that liar for who he really was that night in Grand Central, I would still have my ten dollars.

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