TUESDAY 3.13.23 Matthew 5:17-48
17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder [Exodus 20:13], and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery [Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18]. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.
31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate’ [Deuteronomy 24:1]. 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord [Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21]. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
Jesus’ words may surprise you. Many Christians think Jesus did come to do away with “the law.” Scholar N. T. Wright said, “Jesus didn’t intend to abandon the law and the prophets. Israel’s whole story, commands, promises and all, was going to come true in him…. a way was opening up… to make God’s covenant a reality… changing behavior not just by teaching but by a change of heart and mind.” * Jesus challenged a misuse of “law” that had taken a deep hold on his day’s religious leaders.
- The Old Testament prophets said, often, that God cares about the inner spirit driving our acts far more than any outer show of piety (see Isaiah 1:10–15; Jeremiah 6:20; Amos 5:21–24). Jesus hadn’t come to “do away with” the law. He’d come to apply the law to the true source of both good and bad: our (often hidden) inner self. When have you realized that your outward behavior did not match what was inside you? How has Jesus changed your heart and mind for the better?
- Jesus spoke to anger, faithlessness, falsehood, revenge, and love’s significance. John Wesley (Methodism’s founder) said Jesus called us to be “perfect in love,” ever more loving with God’s all-inclusive love. He rejected the idea that “perfect” meant never “sinning” (missing the mark). Why does it matter to see “perfect” (or complete) as about your inner self rather than just your visible actions? How can you more fully live with God’s generosity toward even “unrighteous” people?
Eternal God, you were with Israel’s King David when he wrote “you want truth in the most hidden places” (Psalm 51:6). You taught that in the Sermon on the Mount. Now plant your truth deep inside me. Amen.
In case you missed it...
During Lent, we have a weekly video that will help you reflect on the key themes from Words that Changed the World: The Message of Jesus. Pastor Cheryl Bell leads us through this week's video. Click here to watch it on YouTube (or click on the image below).
* Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 41). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
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Denise Mersmann serves as the Care Coordination Director for the churchwide Care Central department at Church of the Resurrection.