The Sermon on the Mount by Canon Jim Foley

The Sermon on the Mount by Canon Jim Foley

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Year A: 2014 / 2017 / 2020 / 2023 / 2026)

Reflections on the Gospel of Saint Matthew

The Sermon on the Mount Fra Angelico, c. 1440

Reflection 3:

The Sermon on the Mount

 Matthew 5-7



The following analysis of the Sermon on the Mount is certainly open to discussion and we are sure to find as many ‘patterns of thought’ as there are commentaries on the Gospel. Nonetheless, this exercise serves a very useful purpose in drawing our attention to the fact that these three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew are carefully crafted. They are so carefully constructed that scholars are easily tempted to manipulate the text to make it fit into the pattern of their choice!

With the notable exception of the Beatitudes, of which there are eight, there appear to be seven of everything else: Seven antitheses between Jesus and Moses, seven injunctions about true and false piety, seven directives about single-mindedness and seven concluding reflections. By forming an octave the Beatitudes offend against this preference for parcels of seven and, consequently, it is argued that one of the Beatitudes has to go overboard! The merciful are usually the ones sacrificed to the logic of the Sermon on the understanding that gentleness is holier than mercy.

Then of course there is the overall grouping of five distinct sections. Given Matthew’s interest in fulfilment it is tempting to find in the Sermon on the Mount, the New Testament equivalent of the five books of the Pentateuch. The Law of Moses finds its fulfilment and true interpretation in the Law of Christ.

There are those, with whom the author of these notes is happy to associate himself, who pursue the structure of the Sermon even further. At the centre of the entire Sermon stands the Lord’s Prayer with its seven petitions of which the fourth and central petition concerns ‘our daily bread’. Likewise, prayer and the Eucharist stand at the centre of the life of the Church.

The Sermon on the Mount is scheduled for proclamation in the Liturgy of the Word on six Sundays this year (between 2 February and 9 March 2014) on what are known as Ordinary Sundays 4-9. This would appear to be a welcome opportunity to unfold the sublime doctrine contained in the Sermon. Sadly, those six Sundays are usually broken up by the intrusion of the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter and two months can separate one part of the Sermon from what is left of it after Easter. Other Solemnities that fall on a Sunday have a similar disruptive effect.  Few may lament or even take account of this loss of continuity. The Year 2014 is not a very hospitable year for the Sermon on the Mount. This is a fine example of how the Word of God can be fractured if restricted to the sanctuary of the church. It fares better on the sanctuary of daily life.

With this in mind, some of us may be persuaded to do as the Sermon itself suggests and read the entire Sermon behind closed doors: ‘Go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you’ (Mt 6.5f). The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful tapestry of Christian doctrine and morality.

Introduction 5.1-2

1 Eight Beatitudes: 5.3-16

The poor in spirit

The sorrowful

The gentle

Those who hunger for justice

The merciful

The pure of heart

The peacemakers

Those who are persecuted

2 Seven antitheses between Jesus 5.17-48

and the Law of Moses:

General principle








3 Seven injunctions about 6.1-18

true and false piety:

General principle


Private prayers

Brevity of prayers

The Lord’s Prayer



4 Seven directives about 6.19-7.11


A hidden treasure

A single eye

Serving two masters


On judging others

A cherished gift


5 Seven reflections 7.12-29

by way of conclusion:

The golden rule

The narrow gate

False teaching



A solid edifice

The voice of authority

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