Sunday 16 February 2014

Bible Book:

Matthew 5:21-37 Sunday 16 February 2014


On Education Sunday, we acknowledge the skill and passion thatmade Jesus such a good teacher. Matthew's Gospel includes fivesubstantial blocks of teaching, perhaps echoing the five books ofthe law of Moses. The Sermon on the Mount is the first and mostsignificant of these, drawing together sayings, images and prayersin three connected chapters (chapters 5-7). The presence of some ofthis material in Luke's Gospel suggests that the early Churchremembered much of what Jesus had taught, and recounted his sayingsover and over again, until the Gospel writers recorded them forposterity.

The realities of first-century life in a Roman colony give shapeto Jesus' teaching. We might think that it would be a good idea touse due legal process to resolve a dispute (verse 25). In Jesus'time, courts were often corrupt, so that the highest bidder cameout on top. Many Christians also find the teaching about divorce(verses 31-32) puzzling. In those days, only a man could initiatedivorce, and there was a lively discussion among the rabbis aboutappropriate grounds. Within all this, the rights and needs of thewoman were often ignored, even if a formal document of divorce setout the terms. Jesus' reformulation pays more attention to theirsituation, in a context where women found it very difficult tosurvive independently.

Like any good teacher, Jesus goes a step beyond his predecessorsby developing the foundations which they laid. In this section ofthe Sermon on the Mount, he draws on the Old Testament's ideasabout life lived alongside others. Murder, adultery and falsewitness are all themes of the Ten Commandments (Exodus20:1-17), but Jesus reinterprets them from a different moralbasis, moving from external expression to internal disposition.Murder would not occur without anger (verse 22), adultery would notoccur without lust (verse 28), and allowing ourselves to speakhurtfully (verse 22) can give objective reality to our feelings.Jesus tells his hearers to pay attention to their thoughts,feelings and words. Once these are aligned with God's will, rightaction will follow.

Jesus ends this section of the Sermon on the Mount by saying"therefore you will be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect"(verse 48). The Greek word used here, 'teleios', is linked to theword for 'goal' - you will score the perfect goal'. By itself, thislearning objective is overwhelming. The teaching that precedes itoffers guidance about how to achieve Jesus' vision for us invarious difficult aspects of life - it shows us a confident teachercarefully leading anxious students through challenging material, sothat the conclusion suddenly seems more attainable, even forus.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever come across a really good teacher? Were there anysimilarities between their teaching style and Jesus'? If so, whatwere they?
  • Schools today often look for ways of expressing rulespositively - 'please walk carefully' rather than 'No running'. Howmight you express Jesus' teaching in positive ways for acommunity?

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