In the United States, when one refers to “the Duke,” the allusion suggests John Wayne, the great cinematic hero of the last century. In the United Kingdom, when one mentions “the Duke,” the reference, even after two hundred years, still evokes the image of Arthur Wellesley, the celebrated Duke of Wellington who led the allied armies of Europe to victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.
In the Bible, when one cites “the prophet,” the comment should always bring to mind Moses, the hero of the Exodus event, who patiently led the stiff-necked Hebrew masses through the Sinai desert and powerfully revealed the saving plan of God for his chosen people. For example, when the Scribes and Pharisees ask John the Baptist, “Are you the prophet? (Jn.1:21),” they have Moses in the back of their minds. Now there were, of course, a good number of prophets in the Old Testament era, most of whom are long forgotten. There were indeed the celebrated major prophets — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel — as well as the twelve so-called minor prophets like Amos and Hosea. The major and minor labels here refer to the length of their manuscripts not the quality of their announcements.
Indeed Moses himself might be responsible for his singular designation as “the prophet.” The Book of Deuteronomy (18:15) reads quite pointedly, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” Moses, quite prophetically, suggests a future spokesperson sent from God who will communicate God’s future plans for mankind with Divine authority as Moses himself had indeed revealed God’s designs for the ancient tribes about to settle in the land of Israel. Moses’ words were not just instructive; they were authoritative, truly revealing the plan of God for his ancient people and, in many ways, for subsequent generations as well. Moses’ most celebrated utterances, the Ten Commandments, clearly address not only ancient Israel’s duties but also human nature’s responsibilities. Indeed, although at the time addressed to the Jews who were charged with establishing a new nation on divinely bestowed territory, the Decalogue still applies to very generation of the human family, people of good will as well as people of faith.
Deliberately, as well as symbolically, fulfilling his role as the prophet like Moses, Jesus in chapters five, six and seven of St. Matthew’s Gospel account chooses to deliver some of his most cherished words in the celebrated “Sermon on the Mount,” clearly evoking Moses who delivered the Ten Commandments on that other renowned mount, Sinai. (St. Luke has Christ’s followers spared the long climb to the mountain’s top by noting his words were uttered “on a level stretch”). Christ uses Moses’ original outline of several of the commandments to drive home to his listeners that his words will be just as authoritative in the new dispensation as Moses’ edicts were in the old dispensation. “Thou shall not kill…Thou shall not commit adultery…Thou shall not bear false witness…” were words that meant business to the ancients and Christ’s new instructions to his followers should be taken with equal rigor. Jesus forbids not only killing but even anger; Jesus bans not only infidelity but also lustful thoughts; Jesus forbids not only perjury but all idle talk. Jesus means business just as much as Moses did. Case closed.
Both the Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount acknowledge the fundamentals of human nature. The Commandments demand respect for God and his Name and his Day, respect for authority, respect for life, respect for marriage and family, respect for private property, respect for a good reputation, and respect for wholesome thinking. Yet morality when listed as a series of commandments can seem to be a solemn but extraneous imposition. Morality becomes mere obedience. Jesus, however, envisions Christian conduct not as a response to an external law no matter how elevated, but rather as a response to human needs no matter how mundane. An off-handed remark like “You fool!” is reprehensible because it disrupts human fraternity. The lustful thought is shameful because violates the integrity of the human person. Perjury is unacceptable because it interrupts mankind’s right to the truth. Jesus envisions a morality that springs from innate human nature as created by God. For Christ, the basis of Christian moral conduct is not law; law is merely its expression.
The basis of Christian conduct is Divinely created truth found in human nature: What is the most authentically human response to a situation? How can a person be most true to his or her Divinely created human nature in any of life’s circumstances? The faithful Christian is best equipped for life’s many challenges by being true to God’s wonderful gift of authentic human nature.
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