Summary: Is Jesus a legalist? Are we really supposed to follow what he says?
I knew a woman who stopped for a few drinks every night after work to let traffic die down, then drove home, about a 45 minute drive in lower mainland traffic. She would say, “I’m fine, I’ve never had an accident and there are never any roadblocks on my route home. It’s not like I am some staggering drunk who can’t work or function in life”.
A few months later a drunk driver hit and killed her 8 year old daughter while she was walking on the side of the road coming home from school. The person who killed her daughter was a successful respected female lawyer who ironically worked with family services on child abuse cases, she’d had had a few drinks at lunch. When she blew into the breathalyser she was just at the legal limit .08.
We gave the woman who was grieving the loss of her daughter a portable breathalyser to take to work and she went and had the usual drinks she would have after work, and she blew .18, more than twice what the lady who killed her daughter had. She never drove after drinking again, but for much different reasons than before her daughter was killed. She now knew the Spirit, or intent of the law which was to keep everyone safe.
Christ was very concerned with correcting the interpretations of the Law that the scribes and Pharisees were peddling through many centuries of interpretation and tradition. When the Israelites were captive in Babylon they had ceased to know their native Hebrew language and now spoke Aramaic. However their Scriptures were still in Hebrew so only the studied religious leaders knew what they said.
This is very similar to what the Roman Catholics did up until fairly recently. The priests read scripture only in Latin and no one could understand it so they were free to interpret any way they wanted. Like the Pharisees, men then added to what Scripture said. Over time both the Jews and the Catholics were not hearing the Law as God gave it, but as a representation of it as their interpretation and traditions made it.
The protestant reformation was helpful in that it gave the Bible back to the people rather than just to the priesthood. Like the Jews, the Catholics were told that they had to believe in the sacraments to be saved, and that apart from the church and priesthood there was no salvation. Of course when people had access to the Bible the leaders had to back off on these traditions, at least publicly.
Jesus didn’t want people acting on the Pharisees view of the Law, he wanted them to have the truth of the Law of Moses based on God’s word. And with his “I say unto you”, as God incarnate, Jesus trumps all other authority including Moses himself.
These six examples in chapter 5 are speaking of principles for external relations with other people. We’ll see in chapter 6, the examples refer more to our internal relations with self and God.
This first commentary is about anger and what to do with it. Remember I said last week that each of these directives from our Lord exemplify the kind of love God is looking for. The love that characterizes his nature as perfect, agape love.
Because Jesus is the perfect Son of God, he doesn’t need instructions on how to live it out in the world, but we do. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount is God giving us instruction on how to love like him and therefore fulfill the greatest commandment. These are not just instructions though, they continue to be mirrors for the Christian, specifically, am I loving as God wants me to?
Here’s how the Pharisees had taken the zing out of this Law. They taught that if you literally commit murder, you will go before the courts and be judged (nothing unique in that). They also snuck in there "angry without cause". None of the best translations based on findings of older manuscripts include this, it was added somewhere to let people off the hook. It’s easy to say we have good reason to be angry isn’t it?
This was a negative interpretation, don’t do this and all is well. Nothing about the Spirit of the law or the judgment of God. So let’s look at what Jesus says about anger. We can summarize it like this: anger with a brother is the same as murder when I look at the heart, insulting a brother is as much of a sin as shooting him in the head. And if you don’t reconcile right away, you are going to rot in the prison called hell because reconciliation is the only way out.
We often think of this passage when we come to communion, and it sort of applies there if we call taking communion an act of sacrificial worship. But more than that, I think the Spirit of this verse is that any kind of worship, including prayer is unacceptable to God until we offer reconciliation to the person that has something against us.