What’s So Special about Cheesemakers?

“Did he say ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’? What’s so special about cheesemakers?”

“Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

Those lines are from Monty Python’s irreverent but still humorous film Life of Brian as Jesus attempted to deliver the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). We’ve seen the images of Jesus talking atop a hilltop to a multitude in rapt attention. There stands the Teacher, surrounded by scores or even hundreds of listeners. Do those images get it right?

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them, saying: –Matthew 5:1-2

Clearly, the portrayals, including Monty Python’s, have at least one thing wrong. Jesus is frequently pictured as standing up, while Matthew 5:1 says that He sat down. But let’s look a bit more closely. The “sermon” was delivered in apparent response to crowds. At the close of chapter 4, we read that crowds were following Him. Then as chapter 5 begins, we’re told that “he saw the crowds.” Then He went up on the mountain. Did the crowd follow? That’s not clear. Did Jesus go up on the mountain in order to speak to the crowd? It definitely doesn’t say that. What it does say is that after he sat down, apparently to teach, “his disciples came to him.” That word for “disciples,” mathetes, does not necessarily indicate the eventual twelve disciples (especially since Matthew wouldn’t be called until chapter 9), but it does indicate followers or learners. And in verse 2, Jesus “began to teach them.” Who? English grammar would suggest that the pronoun “them” refers back to the nearer noun, the disciples, rather than to the farther noun, the crowd.

I’d like to suggest that at least the primary audience for this teaching was the disciples, those already bought in to the Jesus program, and not to the entire crowd of curiosity seekers.  Is there any evidence to support this position other than these two verses? I’m glad you asked. Turn a few pages toward the back of the book to Matthew 13. There, Jesus is asked by his disciples–remember them–why He always teaches in parables. His response is significant for us:

Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them.–Matthew 13:11

Now go back to the Sermon on the Mount. Are there any parables there? There are some metaphors and the “Two Foundations” closer in Matthew 7:24-27 could be called a parable, but the vast bulk of these three chapters is straight-forward and reasonably literal teaching. Perhaps these are the “secrets of the kingdom” and this occasion is part of when they were given.

In the Life of Brian, the cheesemaker and other comments are made by people on the distant periphery of the crowd. Although these are an exaggeration, Jesus was not talking to those who simply crowded around. Instead, I’d suggest these were those of whom Jesus spoke, quoting Isaiah 13:14:

You will listen and listen,
but never understand;
you will look and look,
but never perceive.

Thanks for the Road Advice

BicyclingOn a recent Sunday, I went for my first long bike ride of the year, eventually putting in 18 miles before I had the sense to head home. During this trip, I got to experience all of the things that make biking such a joy to me.

  • A strong headwind made me feel like I was going to die.
  • A gradual uphill portion of the route felt like a hors catégorie climb in the Tour De France.
  • Somebody ran a stop sign, despite looking right at me as I approached.
  • Some kind fellow in a white pickup offered me advice: “Get on the sidewalk!”

How do we respond to when some knucklehead demands something of us that clearly we’re not obligated to do? In case you’re not clear on that, cyclists are drivers. The Bike League of America makes this all clear:

In all 50 states, people on bikes are required to follow the same laws as other drivers. Drive your bike as you would any vehicle.  Everyone on the road is entitled to the lane width they need. This includes the space behind, to each side and the space in front. If you want to use someone else’s space you must yield to whoever is using it.

Clearly that driver of the pickup would not be driving on the sidewalk; neither should I be doing so on my bike. (And by the way, I probably delayed his drive by a good 15-20 seconds at most.)

So I did not hang my head and scoot over to the sidewalk when this character yelled out his open window. But what should I have done? Clearly, while wearing my “Cycling for Jesus” t-shirt, which I don’t own and which may not exist, I am not going to make obscene gestures or rush to catch up and hit his truck.

I did, in a moment of irritation, shout, “I will not! I am a vehicle!” This made me think about the Elephant Man’s “I am not an animal. I am a human being,” for a few blocks, which, I have to confess, disrupted the clarity of the encounter. But as I went on, I questioned whether shouting at a motorist–who probably couldn’t hear me anyway–was a proper response.

What is the correct Christian response to being criticized for doing the right thing, whether that be on a bicycle, in the workplace, or at home? I’m thinking that Jesus, although not a cyclist, might have had me in mind when He said, not only “Blessed are the peacemakers” but also, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” Granted, the righteousness that I exhibited in riding on the right side of the proper lane of traffic was not profound in the great scheme of things, but it was righteousness. The persecution hardly rose to a level that justified the word, but it was persecution of sorts. My peacemaking, on the other hand, did not impress God or me.