The Sermon on the Mount is the centerpiece of Matthew’s Gospel that was written to disprove an assertion the Pharisees were repeatedly uttering. They kept claiming that that Jesus had come to abolish the law and the prophets. Against that, Matthew quoted Jesus when he said, “I did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.”
Matthew used the Sermon on the Mount to point out that the teaching of Moses was like what would be taught in kindergarten, while the teaching of Jesus brings people to mature goodness.
Back then, Moses went up Mt. Sinai, and gathered the elders around him. Here, Jesus went up the mountain, and gathered his disciples around him. Matthew dramatized Our Lord’s majesty by saying that he, and he alone, sat down.
Our English translators of Matthew’s Gospel left out a detail they took to be unimportant. Matthew’s original Greek text tells us, “And opening his mouth he taught them.” Matthew wanted his readers to share the original crowd’s feeling of suspense. He wanted us to imagine those people saying, “Look, the Lord is opening his mouth! What will; he say?”
The teaching of Moses from Mt. Sinai opened with those famous one-liners, the Ten Commandments. The one-liners Jesus used to kick off his enhanced moral code were the Beatitudes. He meant them to be as central to Christian living as the Ten Commandments were to Jewish living, but they have never really caught on.
As a boy entering the junior seminary I had the fear that a priest would ask me to recited the Beatitudes. I needn’t have bothered. Christians, even the priests, have never paid much attention to them.