20 February 2011Matthew 5:38-48
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (v. 48)
What a way to start the week. I've burnt the toast, shouted at
the dogs and lost my car keys... and Jesus is asking me to be
perfect. What's more, this passage appears not to illustrate
Christ's humility so much as draw us instead into the niceties of
the Jewish legal system.
We find ourselves at the tail-end of a discourse in which Jesus has been examining some of the most hotly-debated tenets of Jewish law and reinterpreting them for a new age. Discussing anger, adultery, divorce and oaths, Jesus doesn't do the revolutionary thing of throwing out the old teachings and setting up a whole new social and legal framework. Instead he envisages a way of life that is arguably even more challenging. He demands that we act in ways that improve upon the requirements of the law.
Jesus has warned that "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). His reflections on the law now conclude with the injunction to be perfect "as your heavenly Father is perfect" (verse 48). Speaking as much to the Christian community as to individuals, the Gospel writer shapes Jesus' words to suggest that we should not be lulled into believing that we've made the grade simply because we have kept the rules. The Christian life needs to aspire to the perfect love of God, never towards self-belief or self-love. It's the kind of life that, in Jesus' case, led to being hauled up onto a Roman cross.
Looking back from the vantage point of Golgotha, where Jesus died, these verses are not simply the arguments of a Jewish rabbi's sharp legal mind but rather the groundwork for a way of life that cares nothing for self and all for God.
What part do rules, spoken and unspoken, play in your life as a disciple?
As Christian communities, are there rules that we maintain that God might not find very important?
What might a life look like that 'cares nothing for self and all for God'? Who do you know that fits that description?