Foregoing our own will for God’s plan

Father John A. Kiley

Although St. Luke locates Jesus’ most famous sermon “on a level stretch,” St. Matthew has captured the Christian imagination much more compellingly by situating his collection of Christ’s many sayings on a spot “up the mountain.”
St. Matthew no doubt saw a correspondence between Moses going up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from God the Father and Jesus going up the mountain to outline the essential requirements of the Christian life. Of course, Moses and Christ were not the only Scriptural heroes to do the work of God on a mountain top.
It was on Mount Ararat that Noah encountered God after the flood and received the promise that God would spare the earth any like disaster. Mount Moriah was the site where Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac and where, because of his obedience, he received the promise of universals blessings: “…in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command.” Mount Nebo, high above the banks where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, was the site where God fulfilled his promise to the Hebrew patriarchs allowing Moses a rather melancholy glance at the Promised Land: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ’I will give it to your descendants’”
Mount Zion, of course, was the elevation upon which Jerusalem would be founded and the Temple built. This elevated spot was considered a foretaste of heaven: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” And Mount Carmel was the charming location where Elijah encountered God not in the thunder or lightning or wind but in the “wee, small voice” that empowered him to return to Israel and to anoint a new prophet, priest and king.
Mountains are the ideal emblematic location for mankind’s face to face encounters with God. Going “up the mountain” has the distinct imagery of getting nearer to heaven and hence nearer to God. And especially near to a powerful, majestic, imposing God.
Anyone who has seen Mt. Rainier in Washington or Grand Teton in Wyoming has experienced an awesome sight. A natural reverence settles upon the human soul when facing the exalted elevation of a mountain. “The Sound of Music” would have fallen flat on a prairie.
Mountains were indeed the breathtaking meeting places of God and man in the Old Testament, and Jesus would extend this experience into the New Testament. It was on a mountain top that Jesus resisted the temptation of the devil who promised Christ all the nations of the world should he worship him. Christ rejected Satan and firmly embraced God: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
Again it was on the Mount of Olives that Christ, in his final misery, once again firmly embraced the Will of God as supreme: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”
And, of course, Jesus’ final encounter with his Apostles, in which he promised unceasing Divine help took place, according to St. Matthew, on a mountain in Galilee, possibly Mt. Tabor on which the Transfiguration had already occurred.
Again, Jesus affirms Godly power, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And he promises unceasing Divine help for his believing community: “…behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by St. Matthew, has been proclaimed at Sunday Mass these few weeks after Epiphany and before Lent. The discourse clearly outlines not only a guide to Christian conduct but, even more so, a look into the Christian frame of mind.
A Christian is called to stand humbly at the mountain top to acknowledge that God’s power is supreme. God is the source of all strength, all direction, all empowerment.
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” is the awesome challenge given to the Christian believer at the conclusion of Christ’s mountain side discourse. And that perfection can only arrive when the believer acknowledges that true excellence is found in God alone and is willing to forego his or her own will and adhere fully to God’s plan for each soul. Christ rightly outlined in his celebrated sermon the many patterns of Christian charity but the vigor to achieve such good works will always descend from above, from that great and high mountain, from the heights of Divine Grace.