Monday, February 18, 2013

Gospel Blog: Matthew 5:27-48

Note: See Introduction for context on this series on the Gospels.

Summary of Matthew 5:27-48
Jesus continues comparing the Law taught by religious leaders with how one really ought to live.

Detailed Thoughts about Matthew 5:27-48
It is the first week of Lent, and what better way to feel one's utter inadequacy than to read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount!

Jesus' sermon started with the beatitudes, and how the world needs to see and experience those who practice them. The next portion of the sermon began in vs. 17: “I did not come to do away with [the Law and the Prophets], but to give them their full meaning.” Throughout the rest of this chapter, Jesus provides a teaching from the Law and then shows how much further one needs to go with it: “...better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law” (vs. 20).

It dawned on me as I read through the remaining verses of Matthew 5 that Jesus, by starting each command with a teaching from the Law, is showing how the religious leaders of the day don’t even come close to the holiness and perfection of God. So while these impossible commands are meant to crush and to haunt, how much more crushing and haunting are they to the religious leaders of the day who felt they had all the answers? For any Pharisees who might have been listening, this must have been like a slap in the face. Easy to see why these guys did NOT like Jesus.

For example: Jesus says that a married man commits adultery even if he thinks about wanting another woman. He tells us to poke our eye out or cut our hand off if we need to, so that we won’t disobey this law.

Each teaching Jesus gives seems to be more absurd than the last. Someone would actually need a lobotomy in order to obey these commands. With this context in mind, I am beginning to suspect that Jesus is using hyperbole to demonstrate the impossibility of keeping the Law.

Over and over, Jesus brings up a current teaching and shows how inadequate it is.

  • Want a divorce? Divorce papers don’t matter. You are guilty of sin if you divorce, and so are those involved in remarriage.
  • Are you swearing an oath using God’s name so you’ll be sure to keep it? Bad news: this is from the devil. You should always keep your promises without fail in the Kingdom.
  • Have you been wronged? You won’t receive “an eye for an eye”: instead offer your wrongdoer even more of your time, money, resources, and energy.
  • Love your neighbor and hate your enemy? No good. Love your enemy. Pray for anyone who mistreats you.

Again, I can’t help but think that these words of Jesus would have enraged the religious leaders. I wonder what those who were following him at this point were thinking? Were they convicted of their own inadequacy? I wonder if they also felt a little bit of vindication that the religious leaders were also short of God’s expectations? I have to admit that those are the two reactions I’m having to this chapter!

Even though it is a bit clearer what Jesus is doing here, I don’t want to blunt the sharpness of his words. Jesus says in the last verse of the chapter: “you must always act like your Father in heaven.” Impossible. Ludicrous. What other possible response can one have but “God have mercy?”

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