But when Jesus brought his sayings to an end, the crowd was struck with amazement at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had power, and not like their scholars.

Matthew is careful about these short passages of summary. Here the Greek starts with the phrase ‘It came about that…” which I’ve tried to reproduce by a certain formality of language. The verb which characterises the reaction of the people comes from a root meaning “to strike out or through” and the term which I have translated “power” can mean “ability, right, authority.”

Jewish scribes/ scholars taught by quoting scripture and previous scholarly interpretations, emphasising the chain of faithful interpreters of which they were a part. Jesus knew and referred to scripture and tradition, but took sole authority for his teaching. Some modern Jewish scholars have noted this as evidence of Jesus’ arrogance and unreliability.

In fact what Matthew gives in “The Sermon on the Mount” is as astonishing now as it was then, confounding so many taken-for-granted ethical positions, and demanding such impossible goodness from human beings, that we must see the whole sermon as an aspect of Matthew’ magical realism: the impossibilities are there, but they are really given and really received as guides to real living.

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