February 12, 2017
Introduction: As we continue the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus spells out what he means by upholding the commandments. He talks about anger, adultery, divorce and oaths. He begins with the most constraining understanding of them – the most obvious interpretation that the people would have assumed to be the ‘correct’ interpretation.
I) After telling the disciples he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, he now goes on to share what this means. He begins with the commandment ‘thou shalt not murder’. Jesus warns the disciples that even begin angry at someone in God’s view is like committing murder, for it is out of this emotion that murder arises. Adultery is addressed in a similar manner, it is not just the physical act, but the very act of lusting after someone else that must be avoided. Divorce is no longer an option save perhaps in special circumstances, since God’s command was to be married for life. Finally the giving of oaths is now unnecessary because our word should be enough.
II) The problem becomes who can live up to these seemingly incredible and unrealistic demands? Certainly Matthew states that we ought to be perfect like our Father in heaven. This is of little consolation since we cannot achieve this level of purity. Our temptation may be to simply throw up our arms and exclaim since this is not possible except perhaps for a saint we might as well just give up.
III) Although this may seem our only realistic alternative I believe this is selling the Gospel short. Jesus is not asking us to do that which is impossible or makes no sense such as gouging out our right eye or cutting off our right hand. Instead he is inviting us to consider the true demands of God and what it means to actually live up to them. As we put ourselves into the role of trying to live without ever being angry at someone else, of never feeling lust for another, of always treating our spouse as the most valued relationship we have on this earth and acting on our word as we have made the promise. This would seem undoable. So once more we must go back to the context these words have been spoken. We are invited to run into the brick wall of our own fallibility. Realizing we are imperfect and we are always in need of forgiveness, we then can pray as Jesus taught us with a renewed sense of purpose. Now we can no longer hold ourselves innocent by the fact we have not done something, we have as President Carter admitted committed adultery in our heart. Instead we are now able to see ourselves as having fallen short and thus we can be more able to offer forgiveness to others. Knowing we are in need of being forgiven just as much as someone else.