Q & R: Problems with Sermon on Mount?

Here’s the Q:

Recently with Krista Tippet you pondered the power of people reading the Sermon the Mount on a daily basis. It brought to mind a talk at a church by Barack Obama where he pointed out how difficult it would be to translate that sermon into any kind of policy. I don’t think that is a difficulty just for Presidents. It seems to be about the difficulties of leading a good life, like letting your candle shine but not being too smug about it. It seems many people have pondered the sermon and we have found its limits. Could you expand on what you were alluding to?

Here’s the R:
I think a lot of people read the Sermon with a set of religious assumptions that distort it – for example, that it’s about how to get to heaven (it’s not), or that the words “be perfect” means “achieve technical perfection” (it means something very different in context), or that the word “righteousness” means “the moral perfection necessary to go to heaven when you die” (it means something much richer). I wrote about this in my book The Secret Message of Jesus, but I’ve had the chance to go even deeper in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, which will be available in June.