C.S. Lewis once responded to a statement made by another biblical scholar who noted that he didn’t “care for” the Sermon on the Mount but “preferred” the Pauline ethics. Lewis’ response made it clear that he was bothered by the idea that we could place one scriptural passage above another based on our personal preferences.
But then he said this: “As to ‘caring for’ the Sermon on the Mount, if ‘caring for’ here means liking or enjoying, I suppose no one cares for it. Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledgehammer? I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual condition than that of the man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure. This is indeed to be ‘at ease in Zion.'”
To be “at ease in Zion” was the deplorable state of existence of which the prophet Amos spoke in his harsh words to the Israelites. Filled with false security and confidence in their economic affluence and self-indulgent lifestyles, the Israelites, Amos warned, would be the first God would send into exile if they failed to heed His words.
The Sermon on the Mount is equally startling. It is the keynote address for the kingdom of God; the kingdom the Father wanted us to see so badly that He was willing to send His Son to show us. In showing us the kingdom, Jesus challenged our thinking. “You have heard that it was so…” he said again and again, “but I tell you…”. He clearly outlined the contrast between earthly thinking and heavenly thinking.
Perhaps I have become at ease in Zion if I can read the Sermon on the Mount without some measure of distress. When, behind the haze of selfish ambition, guilt, or fear, I lose sight of the kingdom, Christ’s words become like a foghorn calling me to set my eyes on the one I follow and live up to the hope I embody: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matt. 5:13).
And yet, in His wisdom and unfathomable love, right in the middle of this daunting sermon Jesus proclaims gently, “Do not worry.” Such a tender message to those trembling with the fear of certain failure: “It is my life that makes all things possible.” Only Jesus can put us ill at ease and yet comfort us all in the same sentence.
One author writes, “All His biddings are enablings.” Perhaps that’s the best way of looking at it. Jesus paints a picture of a life so high that none of us can measure up, but just as surely as He bids us to live according to “kingdom” standards, He quietly whispers, “I will make it possible. Live in me, and I will make it so.”