Are just cheesemakers welcome in the kingdom of heaven? Or, “any manufacturers of dairy products”. Every time I begin to study the Sermon on the Mount, I have to acknowledge my biases. If I try to ignore my preconceived ideas I will be manipulated by them. One of the simplest tools for helping me to hear the Sermon in a different way to hear it from some one else’s perspective.
In Monty Python’s, The Life of Brian, while Jesus is preaching from the mount, there are people on the fringes. They barely can make out the words. But remaining, they try to make sense of Jesus’ sermon. You can read the script, or watch a video:
GREGORY: What was that?
JESUS: …for their possession. How blest are those…
MR. CHEEKY: I don’t know. I was too busy talking to Big Nose.
JESUS: …who hunger and thirst to see…
MAN #1: I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’
JESUS: …right prevail.
MRS. GREGORY: Ahh, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?
GREGORY: Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.
Trying to create meaning from Jesus’ words, two millennia ago, in a foreign language and culture, is still a challenge. We too, are usually on the edge of the distracted crowd.
We Are On the Edge
Nearly two millennia after the fact, we are on the edge. We are listening from a distance. There are all kinds of tools to help us understand the social situation, the cultural mix, the geopolitical strategies playing out, the mixture of religious interests, and the meaning of the Koine Greek words. That’s a lot of data. That’s a lot of potential information. But were are still at a distance even though we try diligently and responsibly to breach that gap.
“Refers to Any Manufacturers of Dairy Products”
There are so many things to love about this scene from The Life of Brian.. But this quote hits home. As a preacher and teacher I wonder, how many declarative statements have I made in which I similarly sound so definitive? It’s been a lot. There are too many times when we reach for authority that may not be fully ours to grasp. There may be times when we are willing to be like Gregory and claim authority which makes us look foolish, like we’re merely posers.
In my multiple volumes of sermon notes, there is a title on the cover reminding me to a bit humble. “And that’s what I was thinking” is the phrase I use. What I mean is that I am merely marking my thoughts at a point in time. Like a journal. I frequently will say this after a sermon as an invitation to move into dialogue, including additions, deletions, or corrections. At one point I used to conclude sermons with a verbal shrug saying, “but, I could be wrong.” That might be a little too much of a disclaimer. Having a little humility is not a bad thing, I suppose.
The point, however, is we frequently need to hold ourselves in check and not claim to know more than we can. Even the Apostle Paul, not exactly known to be shy about his authority, states a warning which I take to heart.
Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge (1 Corinthians 8.2)
But then, what do I know, I could be wrong ¯\_(ツ)_/¯