Sunday

12 February 2017

“You have heard what it was said to those in ancient times ... But I say to you...” (vv. 21, 22)

Psalm: Psalm 119:1-8


Background

Matthew's Gospel tells us that Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by going up a mountain and beginning to speak. In describing this mountain-top experience Matthew clearly wants us to think of Moses who received the law on a mountain top and passed it on to the children of Israel (Exodus 19, 20). But now Jesus is taking that law and radicalising it. He does this first by talking about inner motivations, thoughts and feelings; in essence, the things that are in our heart instead of laws that are simply written in stone. (When you get to Friday's reading from Ezekiel it will be worth re-reading today's passage as a commentary.)

Jesus' words are radicalised by his statements emphasising a sense of crisis, citing the risk of hell and using hyperbole to create a sense of the importance of not sinning in any way. (So, please don't cut off parts of your body (verses 29-30) - it is a very visual exaggeration for effect.)

Jesus' teaching on divorce (verses 31-32) is also radical, not simply because the reasons for divorce are tightened up by his words but because there is now less reason for a man to divorce a woman. Previously a man could divorce a woman almost on a whim, leaving the woman without any protection. But Jesus is reducing this possibility so a woman's security at that time is increased.

At the heart of Jesus' commandments are our relationships with others. Issues of anger, lust and calling someone a fool all bring into question whether we are valuing others as humans made in the image of God. We joke today by saying 'I could murder them', but how much do we really mean it? So too with making vows and oaths; if we need to make an oath what does that say about the rest of our conversation?


To Ponder

  • Do you think Jesus would say the same things about divorce today? Why?
  • Think about someone you find difficult and how you view them. What might Jesus say?
  • Do we take sin seriously enough in the church today? Why? Or why not?


Bible notes author: 
The Revd Jonathan Mead

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