About This Issue
How close do we dare to get to the Sermon on the Mount?
The scene is a Galilean hill thronged with people. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them. . . .”
So begins the biblical report of the extraordinary manifesto now known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7). It’s widely considered the key to understanding who Jesus was and what mission he strove to fulfill. For two millennia, countless people have wrestled to apply it, from Augustine to Luther to Tolstoy to Gandhi.
Alongside much wisdom, there has been much evasion, prompting Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide’s tart comment: “The history of the impact of the Sermon on the Mount can largely be described in terms of an attempt to domesticate everything in it that is shocking, demanding, and uncompromising, and render it harmless.”
There’s good reason for this: Jesus’ teaching is deeply disruptive, as Eberhard Arnold makes clear. It demands a top-to-bottom reordering of life, work, and social relations – that’s what “repentance” means – starting with radical economic sharing, nonresistance and love of enemies, lifelong marriage between one man and one woman, and unconditional forgiveness. Remarkably, Jesus seems to really expect his followers to put his words into practice.
In this issue, we focus on people willing to get their hands dirty living out the Sermon on the Mount. Their ranks include Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley, Henri Nouwen, Mother Teresa, and others you’ll meet in the following pages. Their insights are not to be consumed passively. Rather, they should inspire and equip each of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work as “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
One other note: We’re thrilled that with the release of this issue, Plough’s magazine is back. Founded in 1920 in Germany, Plough – which also publishes books and online content – has a history full of dramatic plot turns. After a twelve-year hiatus, we are re-launching the magazine as a quarterly, with upcoming issues focusing on justice, children, community, peacemaking, and more.
We cordially invite you to subscribe (if you haven’t already), and to urge others to do the same. Please keep the responses coming – we’re on this adventure together.
Peter Mommsen, Editor
Thanks to Scot McKnight for the reference to Pinchas Lapide’s remarks.