That One Mountain Sermon (Matt 5 & Luke 6)

Sunday, February 12, 2023



Channing: [00:00] Hi, I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminist Podcast. 

Elise: [00:09] We focus on feminist interpretation of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me Manual as a guide for study. We understand that scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain really compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with the Divine, others and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred text with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture. 

Channing: [00:40] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches is our background, we follow our faith in our God on the path of spirituality over institution and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others, welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you’d like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon, or on our website at

[01:22] Hi, friends. Welcome back to the podcast. This week we'll be covering Matthew chapter 5 and Luke chapter 6 for the dates February 13th through the 19th. And in this week's episode, we get to talk about Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, which is super exciting. Lots of great teachings that we learn about, lots of great parables that we learn about, and we actually get to spend two weeks in the Sermon on the Mount. So we'll also be covering a little bit more about this next week as well. But before we jump right into the chapters, we wanted to give a little bit of recontextualization of some things that we read about both in the text and in the manual this week.  

Elise: [02:05] Yeah, so if we look at the heading to Matthew chapter 5, it says, “Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount. Its teachings transcend some aspects of the Law of Moses.” And then if we look at the Come Follow Me manual, one of the first headings with the little summary says, “The Law of Christ supersedes the Law of Moses. As you read, consider marking both the behaviors required in the Law of Moses and what Jesus taught to elevate these behaviors. Why do you think the Savior's way is a higher law?”

Channing: [02:34] So I don't know about you, Elise, but this is definitely similar teachings to what I heard growing up in the church. Is this- did you also encounter this? 

Elise: [02:42] Yeah. I feel like that's a pretty… I think that that's how many people read this portion of the text?

Channing: [02:49] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Almost in a sense that the Law of Moses is the lesser law, and then Jesus came to earth to teach the higher law or a new or better way of doing religion and spirituality. But after spending some time in the Hebrew Bible last year, I have to speak for myself, but I've gained a greater respect for the value and complexity of Jewish religious beliefs and practices. And so we just encourage everyone who's listening and also ourselves to remember that the Hebrew Bible is Judaism's primary sacred text.

[03:23] Judaism does not recognize the Christian New Testament as scriptural canon. We really strongly believe that to create a hierarchy that places some spiritual traditions below others is prideful. To suppose that our Jewish friends are somehow following a lesser spiritual practice, one that's seen as less civilized, less enlightened, less correct, is not only decidedly prideful on the part of the Christian whole, but also blatantly anti-Semitic.

Elise: [03:52] The LDS church welcomes the Hebrew Bible into its canon, but it often reads that the Hebrew Bible is not necessarily a standalone text, but it's really overlaid with the New Testament. And so to not take the Hebrew Bible as a holy and whole text in and of its own right, and instead borrow it, cut it up, and take what is deemed useful and toss out what does not fit pre-created Christian framework is an act of cultural appropriation and violence. So instead of reading the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, and the New Testament as a supersession of the Hebrew Bible, we want to try reading it another way. We want to try to understand Jesus as someone with an intimate understanding and love of the cultural and spiritual significance of the Torah, the Nevi’im and the Ketuvim.

[04:42] Friends, if you haven't listened to our episodes from last year that cover Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we really hope you'll go back and do so or engage with the text itself. And what we find in the law of Moses are laws that uphold values of community care, hospitality, health, prioritization of right relationship, and ecological stewardship. Of course, the laws aren't flawless. They still contain evidence of systemic oppression, but they do illustrate a deeply held cultural value that is echoed through many of Jesus' teachings.

Channing: [05:16] Yeah, absolutely. This is kind of a collective reminder for all of us. Jesus was Jewish. He's not separate from the culture that he grew up in. Jesus was well-studied and wise. He knew the sacred Jewish texts like the back of his hand and often swept the floor with people who tried to Bible-bash with him. We feel that rather than Jesus’ teachings being a supersession or superseding the law of Moses and the Hebrew Bible, then instead Jesus was calling for a return to the deeply held values at the heart of his culture. We really enjoy reading his teachings. Maybe saying in other words, something like, “Look, I know that it, or religion, is done this way, but the way has lost its meaning. Do whatever you need to in order to reestablish meaning, even if you must create a new way.” For example, Matthew chapter 5 verses 21 through 24 outlines a process where men are fighting with one another. Jesus says in verse 23 through 24, “if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way. First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Here, Jesus is essentially saying the altar gift is a ritual for personal release, but the action of repair must be interpersonal and cannot be bypassed. The altar gift deepens the meaning of the act of repair. 

Elise: [06:46] So let's remember that Jesus says in Matthew chapter 5, verse 17, “think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” So let's look at another one even. So in Matthew versus 27 and 28, it says, “you have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shall not commit adultery. But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Adultery, assumed to mean the physical act of sex here, is a physical act with meaning. And we see Jesus' teachings attempting to reconnect the meaning to the act and to prioritize the consideration of that meaning deeper than was or is being done.

[07:34] And then if we look at the Beatitudes, we find even more evidence of efforts to restore meaning to deeply held cultural values. Mercy and meekness are vital aspects of radical hospitality. Peacemaking is a primary characteristic of repairing relationships and keeping communities together. Humility or poorness in heart and spirit allows one to remain connected to their community and environment rather than place themselves above it. Pureness as innocence makes room inside a person for reception and invitation of an experience of God. 

Channing: [08:08] Yeah, absolutely. So we just wanted to give all of us, Elise and I included, a reminder to please, please, please be careful and respectful to our Jewish friends as you read the New Testament. Don't weaponize Jesus' teachings against his own people. Remember that Jesus critiqued the weaponization of religion on behalf of systemic oppression, but not the specific spiritual teachings themselves. 

Elise: [08:33] Yeah, I love that. And it's interesting. This year we both have, maybe because there's less text, we get to work with the same verses, but can kind of read or interpret things differently. And I really love this section in Matthew chapter 5, verses 21 through 48, where you have this pattern that says, “you have heard that it hath been said,” like by the old law of Moses, “but I say unto you.” And these lines are repeated where Jesus reinterprets the laws and customs and doctrine and practices in an attempt to be- what I thought to be- the true message of God, which is justice and love and forgiveness. And I think at first, just like you said, we might feel tempted to read these lines as Jesus offering a more perfect way or the higher, better law. But to me, and especially after we kind of laid out your articulation, it seems that these sentences are less about perfection as an unattainable ideal or even as a judgment call, and more about reflecting on ourselves, our practices, beliefs, and institutions to see where we have gone off track. And honestly, I think that this is a practice, I wish that the LDS church and its members would engage in more frequently. How different could our church be if we were honest and accountable to the liberating message of Jesus Christ? Imagine if we said things like, “Friends, we have heard the current prophet or apostles say that gay marriage is against God's plan. However, God says that it is not good for man to be alone.” Or, “We have heard our current bishop caution against becoming too political at church, but God says we cannot separate our faith from our politics because the message of Jesus Christ is a political one.” And another example, we might think, “We have heard our ward members spewing transphobic comments, but Jesus says, love thy neighbor as thyself.” And as far as I can tell, these passages in Matthew teach us that reflecting, reinterpreting and realigning ourselves with values of justice, love, and forgiveness are an incredibly necessary part of doing God's will. 

Channing: [10:52] Yeah, I think after hearing you say this, and also my own thoughts as I have been working through this chapter, specifically Matthew 5, is growing up I always thought, of course Jesus was an expert on the text, and so he restated or reiterated the text with confidence. But from a different perspective now, I kind of hear myself saying or thinking, of course Jesus is an expert on the text, so of course he would feel confident reimagining and reinterpreting them for the modern day and for the circumstances and political and sociopolitical situations that he was in. So I am just really in love with this whole line of thinking. 

Elise: [11:34] Yeah. Well, and I think that it speaks very much so toward a growing, changing adaptive church. Instead of saying, “well, Joseph Smith said that one time, 500 years ago…” We can also have the-

Channing: (laughs)

Elise: Yeah, 500 years, that was too long ago. But we still have the responsibility and the power to say, “Okay, you know what, some of our previous practices or previous doctrines are no longer working if they ever were working to begin with.” But that we have this kind of responsibility to continue to check our practices and our values and our doctrine against Jesus' ministry that focuses on justice and love.

Channing: [12:13] All I have is snaps for that. Love that. We wanna compare some differences that we find across both the Matthew account and the Luke account as it relates to poverty. In Matthew chapter 5, verse 3, we read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And in Luke chapter 6, verse 20, we read, “Blessed be the poor for yours is the Kingdom of God.”

[12:39] Liberation theology introduces to us this line: God has a preferential option for the poor, which is to say that God has a particular type of compassion and concern for poor folks and works in our world to liberate them. In Matthew’s verse, what is addressed is not material poverty, but complete turning over of one's self to God, which is a prerequisite for being able to receive God's word. This verse refers to the attitude of Jesus Christ that we are trying to emulate. But with Luke's version, there are greater problems of interpretation. To be clear, the phrase, “blessed be ye poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God,” does not mean accept your poverty, because later this injustice will be compensated for in the kingdom of God.

[13:24] From theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, who Elise has lovingly referred to as the Papa of Liberation Theology, we learned that it's better for us to approach this verse as a reminder that the kingdom of God is already at hand. The kingdom of God is already here, and because it's here, “the elimination of the exploitation and poverty that prevent the poor from being fully human has begun. They're blessed because the coming of the kingdom of God will put an end to their poverty by creating a world of fellowship.” As such, this verse is both a blessing but also a requirement to create and fulfill the kingdom of God, which includes the elimination of poverty. 

Elise: [14:05] Yes. I love that kind of careful unpacking of these verses and also how the account differs between Matthew and Luke. And this could be a really nice practice that you and your friends and your family and your church members or whatever do, where you can kind of read through the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes and kind of unpack who do you think these apply to? Why is Jesus speaking to this group of marginalized and oppressed people and blessing them really explicitly?

[14:32] Along similar lines, I also wanted to look at the way that Jesus talks about our enemies and how we should treat them. So in Matthew chapter 5, verse 44, Jesus says, “Love your enemies. Bless them that curse you. Do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” But later in Luke chapter 6, verse 35, it says, “But love ye your enemies and do good and lend hoping for nothing again.” And I have two thoughts here. First, I like to interpret this verse as a reminder that in order for there to be true liberation and freedom, I have to be able to work with people with whom I disagree or don't like. And these verses ask me if I can work with those that I find annoying, frustrating, or don't agree with on every issue. and it reminds me that, in fact, working with people I don't like and don't completely agree with is an essential part of organizing a movement large enough and powerful enough to make lasting change. Because if I spend all my time hating and fighting and critiquing people for their approaches or because they don't think or act exactly like me, I end up forgetting that all of our struggles are actually connected and that we actually need each other to make any type of lasting effective change.

And I think there's this really great example that comes from a book titled Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice, who writes, “I came to understand that many of our traditions about kinship aren't as much about making people like each other as about helping ensure that our differences don't tear us apart. We didn't have to like each other, but we did have to try to find ways of living together in a situation that was less than ideal.” So we don't have to like each other, but we do have to recognize that we only free us if there is an us who is working together. 

Channing: [16:27] Yes. Yes. I love that. And I know that you said you had two thoughts, so I'm curious to hear what the second part of that was?

Elise: [16:32] Oh, yes. The second part of the verse is that I don't think that these verses are about the oppressed and marginalized being commanded or demanded to love their oppressors. Let's be very clear about that. So what happens when we read the verse this way is that we risk claiming that oppressors and oppressive systems are worthy of our love and forgiveness, but they are not. But I think what this reading misunderstands is the power dynamic involved. Why is it that the oppressed should love their oppressors when the very act of oppression and exploitation is a negation of love and a negation of humanity of the oppressed? And one line that really stands out to me that we've said probably once a year for the last four years, Jose Severino Croatto teaches us that a God of peace and love is first of all, a God of justice and freedom, no matter the cost. So in order to offer love equitably, there has to be justice and a redistribution of power between groups. 

Channing: [17:34] I do know that you have something so beautiful that you wanna share with us. 

Elise: [17:38] Yes. Okay so, we know how last year, basically our number one most amazing, favorite theologian ever was Wil Gafney, Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney. This year, it might be too soon to place that same title, but I'm really into Nadia Bolz-Weber's work. She runs her own church and she's a pastor and a preacher and she's just a really remarkable person. And so she rewrote a more contemporary version of the Sermon on the Mountain, the Beatitudes, which she called the Beatitude Benediction. And so just to end the episode, I wanted us to read this in a more contemporary, modernized way to see how the Sermon on the Mount stands out to us and touches our lives in the 21st century. She writes, 

[18:38] “Blessed are the agnostics.

Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.

Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.

Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Channing: [18:52] Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.

Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.

Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.

Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore.

Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.

Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.”

Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Elise: [19:26] Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers.

Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted.

Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented.

Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek.

You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Channing: [19:55] Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like them.

Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.

Blessed are foster kids and special-ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.

Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.

Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.

Blessed are the kindhearted football players and the fundraising trophy wives.

Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed are they who hear that they are forgiven.

Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it.

You are of heaven, and Jesus blesses you.”

Elise: [20:57] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify, so other seekers can find us.

Channing: [21:16] Financial donations support the many hours of research, work, and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists. We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye.

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