Sermon on the Mount to the Men of Our Day

Author: Pope John Paul II

Sermon on the Mount to the Men of Our Day

Pope John Paul II


During the General Audience on Wednesday, 6 August, John Paul II delivered the following address.

1. Continuing our cycle, let us take up again today the Sermon on the Mount, and the statement: "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28). Jesus appeals here to the heart.

In his talk with the Pharisees, referring to the "beginning" (cf. the preceding analyses), Jesus uttered the following words with regard to the certificate of divorce: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:8). This sentence undoubtedly contains an accusation. "Hardness of heart"(1) indicates what, according to the ethos of the people of the Old Testament, had brought about the situation contrary to the original plan of God-Yahweh in Genesis 2:24. There we must seek the key to interpret the whole legislation of Israel in the sphere of marriage and, in the wider sense, in relations between man and woman as a whole. Speaking of hardness of heart, Christ accuses the whole "interior subject" who is responsible for the distortion of the law. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28), he also refers to the heart, but the words pronounced here do not seem only to accuse.

2. We must reflect on them once more, placing them as far as possible in their historical dimension. The analysis made so far—aimed at highlighting the man of lust in his genetic moment, almost at the initial point of his history interwoven with theology—constitutes an ample introduction, especially an anthropological one, to the work that must still be undertaken. The following stage of our analysis will have an ethical character.

The Sermon on the Mount, and in particular that passage we have chosen as the center of our analyses, is part of the proclamation of the new ethos, the ethos of the Gospel. In the teaching of Christ, it is deeply connected with awareness of the "beginning," namely with the mystery of creation in its original simplicity and richness. At the same time, the ethos that Christ proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount is realistically addressed to historical man, who has become the man of lust. Lust in its three forms is the heritage of all humanity, and the human heart really participates in it.

Christ knows "what is in every man" (cf. Jn 2:25).(2) He cannot speak in any other way than with this awareness. From this point of view, in the words of Matthew 5:27-28 it is not the accusation that prevails but the judgment, a realistic judgment on the human heart. It is a judgment which has both an anthropological foundation and a directly ethical character. For the ethos of the Gospel it is a constitutive judgment.

3. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ directly addresses the man who belongs to a well defined society. The Master, too, belongs to that society, to that people. So we must look in Christ's words for a reference to the facts, the situations and the institutions which he was familiar with in everyday life. These references must be analyzed at least in a summary way, so that the ethical meaning of the words of Matthew 5:27-28 may emerge more clearly.

However, with these words, Christ also addresses, in an indirect but real way, every historical man (understanding this adjective mainly in a theological sense). This man is precisely the man of lust, whose mystery and whose heart is known to Christ. "For he himself knew what was in man" (Jn 2:25). The Sermon on the Mount enables us to contact the interior experience of this man almost at every geographical latitude and longitude, in the various ages, in the different social and cultural conditionings. The man of our time feels called by name with this statement of Christ, no less than the man of that time, whom the Master was addressing directly.

4. The universality of the Gospel, which is not at all a generalization, lies in this. Perhaps precisely in this statement of Christ, which we are analyzing here, this is manifested with particular clarity. By virtue of this statement, the man of all times and all places feels called, in an adequate, concrete and unrepeatable way. This is because Christ appeals to the human heart, which cannot be subject to any generalization. With the category of the heart, everyone is characterized individually, even more than by name. Everyone is reached in what determines him in a unique and unrepeatable way, and is defined in his humanity from within.

5. The image of the man of lust concerns his inner being in the first place.(3) The history of the human heart after original sin is written under the pressure of lust in its three forms. Even the deepest image of ethos in its various historical documents is also connected with this lust. However, that inner being is also the force that decides exterior human behavior, and also the form of multiple structures and institutions at the level of social life. If we deduce the content of ethos, in its various historical formulations, from these structures and institutions, we always meet this inner aspect, characteristic of the interior image of man. This is the most essential element. Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, especially those of Matthew 5:27-28, indicate it unmistakably. No study on human ethos can regard it with indifference.

Therefore, in our subsequent reflections, we shall try to analyze in a more detailed way that statement of Christ which says: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (or "has already made her adulterous in his heart").

To understand this text better, we shall first analyze its single parts, so as to obtain afterward a deeper overall view. We shall take into consideration not only those for whom it was intended at that time, those who actually heard the Sermon on the Mount, but also, as far as possible, modern men, the men of our time.


1) The Greek term sklerokardía was formed by the authors of the Septuagint to express what in the Hebrew meant: "non-circumcision of the heart" (cf. e.g., Dt 10:16; Jer 4:4; Sir 3:26f.) and which, in the literal translation of the New Testament, appears only once (cf. Acts 7:51).
Non-circumcision meant "paganism," "immodesty," "distance from the covenant with God"; "non-circumcision of the heart" expressed unyielding obstinacy in opposing God. This is confirmed by the exclamation of the deacon Stephen: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51).

2) Cf. Rv 2:23: "....he who searches mind and heart..."; Acts 1:24: "Lord, who knows the hearts of all men..." (kardiognostes).

3) "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man..." (Mt 15:19-20).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 August 1980, page 1

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069