In Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 are the sermons on the Mount/Plain. There is a lot of debate about the relationship between these two sermons, but what interested me the other day when I was sitting in a waiting room (thankfully I took a legal pad) was what Matthew and Luke assumed would be interesting and would be known to the readers/listeners.*
Now I cannot have certainty about those things. But if we assume that like any piece of written rhetoric, the author had an audience who knew certain things in mind, then we can make some inferences. In all of this it’s important to remember that when we construct a speech, we appeal to what we think will interest people in order to help them find interest in what we think will benefit them (or get them to buy our product). But in an extended speech there might be several subaudiences to which we appeal.
Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount Assumptions
- The readers/hearers were interested in being happy in the sense of flourishing human life. The beatitudes start with the word “blessed” which probably means something more like “in an honored state” or “possessing the best/most desirable life.” In the Greek Old Testament that word seems to function like Aristotle’s word for happiness.
- They cared about putting the law of God into practice. Jesus tells the audience not to be afraid of the possibility of him doing away with Moses’ law.
- They at least know an oral version of the Old Testament, “You have heard…,” never “it is written.”
- They are in contact with the Pharisees (see chapter 6:1-13 especially) or have pharisaical tendencies.
- They want honor and rewards.
- They find it valuable to “see God.”
- They want to be wise.
- They want to be part of God’s kingdom.
- Some of them felt spiritually destitute (poor in spirit).
Luke’s Sermon on the Mount Assumptions
- Luke’s audience similarly desired “blessedness” or “happiness.”
- They may have been more financially successful and willing to infer that they were living the blessed life with God as a consequence of their good fortune.
- They knew Jesus was a teacher, but were not themselves as familiar with the law of Moses.
- They really wanted to be good people whose lives bore good fruit.
- Strangely, in Luke, being like a ‘wise man’ is not a motivation. But the same simile of the builder who uses a firm foundation is used. In this case, the idea is simply of having a life that is not susceptible to the trials of the world. These people wanted unwavering or everlasting life.
I would be willing to say more about Luke’s audience over all, but I wanted to go simply by what we could find in the respective versions of the Sermon on the Mount.
What did I miss?
*I’m of the opinion that by and large these sermons, regardless of the process that lead to it happening, preserve a common public sermon Jesus preached about the kingdom of God before he shifted to primarily using parables before the public. So of course there will naturally be overlap between Matthew, Luke, and Jesus’ audiences desires, interests, and knowledge.