by Lois Tverberg
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is lovely, but you have to admit that it’s also a challenge. He tells us to “turn the other cheek” and tightens up many laws, pointing out that anger is as bad as murder, and that lust is as bad as adultery. Why does he do this?
Some have thought that Jesus’ goal was to show that God’s standards are impossibly high, so we should give up on trying to do the right thing and instead trust in God’s forgiveness in Christ.
There is another possibility though. Jesus may have been preaching on the Jewish idea of hasidut – (hah-see-DOOT), a later rabbinic term which is often translated “piety.” It means to walk intimately with God and live entirely to serve him. It means to eagerly obey God out of love, asking the question, “What more can I do to please you?”
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, which describe what it is like to be a true hasid (hah-SEED), a “pious one.” They are hungry and thirsty to do God’s will, and greatly desire to see God use them to accomplish his mission on earth. They are peace-makers, meek and merciful, and they are pure in heart, earnestly avoiding sin.
Part of the idea of hasidut was that a hasid would go far out of his way to avoid sin, for fear of grieving God’s spirit and breaking the communion he has with God. As a result, the person tightened his own standards and lived beyond the minimum, to make sure he is within God’s will.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges us to ask what is the maximum we can do to please God, not what is the minimum required by the Law. So great should our love for God be that we’d tear out our eyes rather than be led away from him by sin. We should be persons of such honesty that we never need to take a vow—our yes is always yes, and our no, always no. We don’t just love our friends, we love even those who are hateful. This should be our goal, even if we aren’t that way right now.
A modern orthodox Jewish commentary describes hasidut this way:
The hasid is one who goes beyond the letter of the law in his service of G-d. He does not do only what he is told, but he looks for ways to fulfill G-d’s will. This requires intelligence and planning; one must anticipate just what G-d wants of him and how he can best use his own talents in service of his Creator. As we also saw, this was in direct contrast to the mock-piety—fasting, wailing, rolling in the snow, etc…. G-d has no interest in senseless service—that we do things just because they’re hard (and get us a lot of notice). Piety is not doing things which hurt. It is careful, planned and responsible service of G-d. We are not to sacrifice ourselves for G-d with self-destructive acts of devotion; we are to live for Him—as responsible, thinking beings who make intelligent choices in our religious service. We are to maximize our potential—and to use that potential in service of our Creator.1
Jesus’ words are a description of what our goal is to become as followers of him. As we grow closer, our desire is to have nothing come between us. And the first thing that we pursue is God’s will, not our own.
1Adapted from http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter2-10and11c.html. (The reason that some Jews spell the word “God” with a hyphen is out of reverence, to not lightly use the holy name of God. This itself is an example of piety*—*hasidut.) See Bivin, *New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus*, pp.55-58, (En-Gedi, 2005).
The idea of *hasidut* is explained in more depth in an excellent talk called, “Jesus, the Sin-Fearer” by David Pileggi, as part of the *Insights into Jesus of Nazareth DVD Series*. See also page 174 of *Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus*, in the chapter called “Jesus and the Torah.”