The Sermon on the Plain
“We glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulation produces patience, and patience experience, and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed,” (Romans 5:3-5.)
The Sermon on the Plain and its corresponding passage – the Sermon on the Mount – in Matthew 5:1-12, has been called ‘The Christian Manifesto’ as it sets out the values and ideals of the Christian Life in the Kingdom. It is a pledge to be detached from all that is not of God and that one’s life be guided by what is conducive to the service of God or, to put it another way, by what is conducive to the end for which we were created.
Now let us see, in the first place, why Christ spoke to his disciples about true happiness. We know that not only the great body of the people, but even the learned themselves, hold this error, that he is the happy man who is free from annoyance, attains all his wishes, and leads a joyful and easy life. At least it is the general opinion, that happiness ought to be estimated from the present state. Christ, therefore, in order to accustom his own people to bear the cross, exposes this mistaken opinion, that those are happy who lead an easy and prosperous life according to the flesh. For it is impossible that men should mildly bend the neck to bear calamities and reproaches, so long as they think that patience is at variance with a happy life. The only consolation which mitigates and even sweetens the bitterness of the cross and of all afflictions, is the conviction, that we are happy in the midst of miseries: for our patience is blessed by the Lord, and will soon be followed by a happy result.
This doctrine, I do acknowledge, is widely removed from the common opinion: but the Disciples of Christ must learn the philosophy of placing their happiness beyond the world, and above the affections of the flesh. Though carnal reason will never admit what is here taught by Christ, yet he does not bring forward anything imaginary, in ancient times, to amuse themselves with their paradoxes,—but demonstrates from the fact, that those persons are truly happy, whose condition is supposed to be miserable. Let us, therefore remember, that the leading object of the discourse is to show, that those are not unhappy who are oppressed by the reproaches of the wicked, and subject to various calamities. And not only does Christ prove that they are in the wrong, who measure the happiness of man by the present state, because the distresses of the godly will soon be changed for the better; but he also exhorts his own people to patience, by holding out the hope of a reward.
Four contrasts are referred to in these few scripture verses – poverty/riches; hunger/fullness; sorrow/laughter; and defamation/commendation. Jesus upturns the values we would normally consider desirable. He asks us to realise that we are not living simply to be happy in this life but we should ask ourselves the deeper value of our ways of life in the light of what we can bring with us to eternal life. The Christian view of life is that we should never forget that things cannot be brought with us into eternal life. Rather, we only take with us the things we have given away.
The kingdom of God is mysterious, because it is God’s project working out silently in human history. But from this text we know some of those who will be in it. The poor and the hungry will be there. So will those who weep, and also the dominated, the persecuted, the outcasts of the earth. What an extraordinary group! Those who are at the bottom of the human pyramid will be rejoicing and leaping for joy at God’s goodness to them. God bless you, Fr. Ejikeme