Stanley Hauerwas (and Bonhoeffer) on the Sermon on the Mount

For those who don’t know, Stanley Hauerwas has written a commentary on Matthew. There are plenty of insights. Here are a few quotes from his comments on the Sermon on the Mount, where he draws on Bonhoeffer’s writings several times.

For the church to be so constituted, according to Bonhoeffer, requires the visibility of the church. To be salt, to be made light for the world, is a call for the church to be visible. For the followers of Jesus, “to flee into invisibility is to deny the call. Any community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him” (2001, 113).

This does not mean that those who would follow Jesus do so that they may be seen. Nor are disciples called to be different in order to be different. Jesus clearly thinks that disciples will be different, but that difference is because of what he is—the Son of God. Bonhoeffer observes that Jesus’s teachings in Matt. 6 help us to see that the righteousness of the disciple is hidden even from the disciple. Visibility and difference is the result of being pulled into the way of life made possible by Jesus. So the Sermon on the Mount is a description of a way of life of a people, a people of a new age that results from following this man. (Emphasis added)

That is what it means to be blessed. Given our everyday assumptions, we normally do not think that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake, are “blessed.” Yet that Jesus declares such people “blessed” indicates that the transformed world has begun with the proclamation that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Each of the Beatitudes names a gift, but it is not presumed that everyone who is a follower of Jesus will possess each beatitude. Rather, the gifts names in the Beatitudes suggest that the diversity of these gifts will be present in the community of those who have heard Jesus’s call to discipleship. Indeed, to learn to be a disciple is to learn why we are dependent on those who mourn or who are meek, though we may not possess that gift ourselves. (Emphasis added)

[In the following Hauerwas talks about what “poor in spirit” means.]

But the source for any understanding of the Beatitudes must be Jesus. It is from Jesus that we learn what it means to be “poor in spirit.” (Emphasis added)

[Then Hauerwas cites Philippians 2:5–8.]

Paul does not assume that our poverty of spirit is the same as Jesus’s self-emptying, but rather that Jesus’s poverty has made it possible for a people to exist who can live dispossess of possessions. To be poor does not in itself make one a follower of Jesus, but it can put you in the vicinity of what it might mean to discover the kind of poverty that frees those who follow Jesus from enslavement to the world. Not to be missed, moreover, it the political significance of such poverty. Too often we fail to recognize our accommodation to worldly powers because we fear losing our wealth—wealth that can take quite diverse forms. (Emphasis added)

Like Jesus, moreover, the disciples endure injustice with the hard meekness that still hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Yet the righteousness of this new people is blessed by the mercy seen in the forgiveness that Christ showed even to those who would kill him. Such a people are capable of peacemaking because they are sustained by the purity derived from having no other telos but to enact the kingdom embodied in Jesus. Yet such a people may well be persecuted, as Jesus was persecuted, because they are an alternative to the violence of the world that is too often called “peace.” (Emphasis added)

Source: Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 61–65.

Stanley Hauerwas Duke University Photography© Chris Hildreth #0032


One thought on “Stanley Hauerwas (and Bonhoeffer) on the Sermon on the Mount

  1. Pingback: Matthew 6 | Searching for Meaning

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