On the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee you will find what is today called the Mount of Beatitudes. It doesn’t take a major theologian to figure out why. It has long been recognized as where Jesus delivered his most famous talk, the Sermon on the Mount. In approximately 2,450 words, Jesus explained everything one needed to know to follow God’s Law.
That sermon started, of course, with the Beatitudes.
Jesus’ teaching was, and remains, subversive to the political and social establishment of the day. They were “false prophets,” Jesus said, “ravenous wolves” who “come to you in sheep’s clothing.” Their words didn’t match their deeds; sound familiar?
Jesus reset the Law to its proper place, pointing people (then and now) to a free and more abundant life in which we are called to govern ourselves and care for one another. This teaching was necessary. The Law had been a blessing from God—showing men how to honor Him and live peaceably with each other—but had been corrupted into a heavy weight of legal burdens and control.
Before diving in to that, though, the sermon’s opening Beatitudes remind us that while we may not control our circumstances, we are responsible for our attitudes in them.
In the modern era, the law doesn’t come from pretentious religious leaders but from lawmakers who suffer those same human tendencies. For example, the U.S. tax code runs nearly 70,000 pages; when you add in the associated regulations and case law, the Tax Foundation reports, and you need to slog through some 10 million words to get the complete picture—but you’ll never understand it. And, yes, that is mostly by design.
(The complete Bible, in contrast, runs under 800,000 words, depending on the translation you use.)
The tax code was originally a tool for financing our mutual benefits and obligations as citizens. It has morphed into a monstrous mess in which politicians punish foes, aid cronies, and impede innovation; it is political patronage at its worst.
Just as in Jesus’ day, those in control of making the rules often run roughshod over the underlying purpose of the law in a quest to control the people and benefit themselves.
The tax code may be incomprehensible, but God’s Law is not, thanks to a simple sermon on a hillside. Jesus restored the meaning of the Law and offered a freedom that cannot be taken away. No matter how many incomprehensible words lawmakers use to (allegedly) “make things better,” the Sermon on the Mount shows in just a few pages how we can live effectively and constructively.