When writing to someone we don’t know, at least we don’t know their name, it is not uncommon to use “To Whom It May Concern”. Addressing a cover letter, resume, or inquiry in this manner, the hope is it will be general enough in address to reach the right person’s desk. However, I suspect that often it ends up on no desk at all.
Was the Sermon on the Mount addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” or a direct group of people. The text, both in Matthew and Luke, seem to suggest that this block of life-changing teaching was directed at the disciples of Christ. Yet, in both accounts, a large multitude is present and certainly within earshot of the lesson. Now, whether the “sermon” was given in the blocks we see them recorded is not for discussion here, although an interesting pursuit. What nags at me is who was the primary recipient of the teaching.
Throughout the lesson we see, “Blessed are…” and “You are…” each with its own weighty matter attached. If addressed to the disciples who, according to Matthew’s account, have just recently been called into service, one might think you would hear Jesus saying, “You will be blessed” and “you will be salt and light,” However the teaching is not cast in the future tense, as on might expect being addressed to newly called recruits, but in the present tense. Perhaps there is some significance to this.
The pivotal point of the sermon comes – at least in my mind – is verses 17-20 in Matthew. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them .” This entire pericope is pregnant with meaning and gives a certain clue as to who should be hearing this sermon. As N.T. Wright notes, the sermon “is a challenge to Israel to be Israel (N.T. Wright, Jesus, 288).” Therefore, the content of this teaching segment is one that calls Israel, the chosen of God, back to their rightful place and to a character or behavior that is reflective of God’s original intent for them as his people. It seems the only way to make sense of these verses without hinting that Jesus is re-writing the Law in some fashion. He is not re-writing rather he is letting the words of the Law leap from the scroll and become fleshed out in right living for those who are of the kingdom of heaven.
There is little doubt if one captures the flavor of the gospels that there is a tension between what the hearers of Jesus’ message thought and what Jesus intended when it came to the kingdom. Many, including his intimate followers, thought the kingdom would be physical and grounded on terra’s plane. But that was not the case. Jesus was teaching to equip citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Occupiers of a different sphere. People who would express the character needed to be heavenly citizens in and around their own community. Doers not just hearers of God’s eternal Law and prophetic message. People who would be seen in a different light because they were light!
I may not be fully cognisant of what the Law is, but I can be fully exposed to what the Lord’s application of the Law is. I may not be immersed in the message of the prophets, but I can be bathed in transforming power of “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I may not find my obligations appealing at every level, but I can seek God’s grace to apply them on every level. I can stand in astonishment, as the original hearers did, and recognize that the Christ I follow is one who teaches with authority because all authority has been given to him (Matt. 28:18).
To whom it may concern? It concerns me!