Sunday 13 February 2011

Bible Book:

"Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (v. 20)

Matthew 5:21-37 Sunday 13 February 2011


The verses immediately preceding today'sextract from the Sermon on the Mount are the key to understandingit, with its repeated contrast between "you have heard that itsaid" and "but I say". In each case - murder, adultery, divorce,oaths - Jesus contrasts the way Old Testament teaching wastraditionally interpreted by the religious leaders of the time, thescribes and Pharisees, with his own more exacting requirement. Theoverall thrust is to go behind a literal approach, which couldeasily lead to people finding ways to evade the rule, to the spiritof the rule and the need for a change in our inner attitude.

So in verses 21 to 26 the emphases are on controlling the angerthat gives rise to violence and on reconciliation rather thanconflict. Verses 23-24 are referring to individual acts of devotionwhich can be postponed, not to sharing in public worship at fixedtimes, and verses 25-26 to the settlement of debts.

Clearly verse 28 refers to more than just noticing an attractivewoman. And obviously, verses 29-30 are not meant to be takenliterally. Jesus has a habit of making striking statements to bringhome a point. You may think of other examples.

In verses 31-32 it is important to remember the context of thetime, which was very different from Western society today. Then, inJewish law the wife was the husband's property; only he couldinitiate a divorce, and according to some interpretations could doso for any reason however trivial. In that context verse 32 insiststhat unless the marriage bond has already been broken by adulteryit remains binding and marriage to a divorced woman constitutesadultery by both parties.

Verses 33-37 expose the fallacy of thinking that one can escape theconsequences of a broken oath by substituting something else forGod's name. Jesus goes to the heart of it. Let your word itself beyour bond.

Note how the authority of Jesus comes out in all thesesayings.

To Ponder

To what extent is Jesus' teaching herepracticable in today's world?

Does verse 32 state an absolute rule for today?If not, why not?

In what other ways should a Christian's conductshould go beyond conventional standards?

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