Book: Social and Cognitive Perspectives on the Sermon on the Mount
Chapter: 5. Ritual Acts in the Sermon on the Mount
Rodney A. Werline reads the exhortations to give alms, pray, and fast in secret (6:1-19) in the light of a number of ritual theories. By shifting the focus from reading these texts as theology to reading them as ritual instructions, he describes the lived experience of those attempting to practice Jesus’s commands. Ritual form theory and comparisons between ritual and compulsive actions allow us to see that the text promises ritual efficacy (God’s reward) for those who perform these rituals with the proper behavior and attitude. Two modes theory—the theory that religious systems tend to be either “imagistic” with focus on intense but rare rituals, or “doctrinal” with frequently repeated, less intense, rituals—reveals that the Sermon’s ritual instructions are much less detailed than one would expect, since repeated rituals are typically performed with procedural rigor. Perhaps the Sermon assumes that such knowledge does not need to be spelled out? Insights from anthropologists that rituals are social and political events prompt us to ask what function private rituals could possibly have and expose the tension between private and collective ritual action in the passage. Even if the community is not present, the ritual performance ingrains the values and of the community in the ritual performer’s body and manifests the distinction between the community and surrounding outgroups. Finally, whenever the Lord’s prayer is prayed together, commitment to the prayer’s vision becomes a social fact that obliges the praying participants.