Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Disciples and Multitudes. I consider the "second mile" injunction in Matthew 5:41 in the entire context of the Sermon on the Mount ("SOM"), as of course we must. (One of my favorite interpretive aphorisms is "A text without a context is a pretext".) Several scholars believe it crucial to note the introductory verses of the SOM, Matthew 5:1 and 2. These verses show that there are two possible categories of listeners, (a) "the multitudes [KJV]" or "the crowds" [NIV] and (b) "his disciples".

Notwithstanding the films we have seen that show Jesus standing on a hillside speaking to people standing and sitting about, up and down the hill like listeners in an amphitheater, Matthew 5:1 and 2 make it plain that Jesus went "up on a mountainside" to get away from the crowds. Up on that mountainside "his disciples came to him, and he began to teach them . . . " So the SOM is not for everyone. It is for those who choose to follow Jesus.

I guess that's obvious, but over my lifetime I have heard parts of the SOM presented as a sort of ethical prescription for everyone. But why should one do any of the things that Jesus asks in the SOM if he is not a disciple? Love my enemy? I, a young Jewish male brought up in the traditions, go a second mile with a Roman soldier, carrying his armor, his weapons, his shield? You have to be kidding. "The multitudes" are not ready to hear this. Let's get away from them and talk.

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