A thoughtful reading of the Sermon on the Mount, actually chapters five, six and seven of St. Matthew’s Gospel, provides overwhelming testimony to the centrality of the fatherhood of God in the thought and ethics of Jesus. The fatherhood of God was no metaphor in the preaching of Christ.
Clearly God’s authentic and abiding fatherhood was a new revelation, anticipated in the Old Testament but now made foundational by the instruction of his Son, Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Repeatedly the Sermon on the Mount signals an ethic of the Father. All activities should rebound to the glory of God as Father.
The Sunday liturgy, over the past few weeks, has proclaimed the familiar phrases of Christ’s lengthy sermon and consistently the words of the Master underline the place of the Father in the spiritual and moral life of the Christian. Regarding daily good deeds, Jesus insists, “… your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” The charitable work of the Christian must be so intense, so effective that others will discern its source solely as coming from the Father. The Christian deserves no credit; all tribute goes to the Father. The ability of the Christian to endure misunderstanding and even persecution should similarly lead all witnesses to the Father. “… I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” Christian endurance should be so resolute, so selfless that God the Father is clearly seen as the sole source of such forbearance.
Again Jesus instructs his disciples that all good deeds –prayer, fasting, almsgiving – should be done without ceremony and with discretion so that the believer’s only supply of satisfaction will come from the Father and not from any earthly source. “But take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” The earnest Christian will be consumed with the Father. Recall also that the memorable words of the “Our Father” are found for the first time within this context of the Sermon on the Mount. This solemn prayer, so rightfully incorporated wholly into the liturgy, indicates that all Christian prayer and all Christian worship are oriented toward the Father. And to sum up all his instruction, Jesus upholds his Father as the supreme criterion of all Christian action: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The lengthy Gospel passage for this coming Sunday most idealistically and almost naively celebrates God the Father’s certain and consistent response to all prayer. God who cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field cannot be deaf to the prayers of mankind.
With unashamed confidence Jesus boldly proclaims, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” These are undoubtedly among the most challenging words in the New Testament. They demand an uncompromising faith in God’s persistent fatherhood. If human fathers will not hand their offspring a stone when asked for a loaf, certainly God will not deny his children any benefit.
The Sermon on the Mount makes the fatherhood of God the primary doctrine of Christian belief and the central motivation of Christian morality. All worship and all activity should reflect the believer’s respect, trust and confidence in God as Father. It should be especially understood that the fatherhood of God is not a reflection of the fatherhood found within human families and earthly communities. The opposite is true. Earthly fathers are faint resemblances of mankind’s Father in heaven, “from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name.” Divine fatherhood is the reality; human fatherhood is the metaphor – and not vice versa.
Through the pen of St. Matthew, Jesus loses no time in instructing his disciples and the crowds gathered at his feet as well as all succeeding generations of believers that the fatherhood of God is the primary revelation needed for an authentic Christian life.