"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Matthew 5:21-48 -- Jesus: Speaking with Authority or A Lot of Nerve!

Right after Matthew credits Jesus with saying what he did about not abolishing the Law and the Prophets, we read verses about murder, hatred, adultery, lust, divorce, taking oaths, not resisting an evil person and treatment of our enemies.

Notice in Matthew 5:21-48 how often Jesus says either "it is written" or "you have heard it said" referring back to the Law and/or Jewish tradition. On nearly all these topics Jesus refers to what they have heard or what is written then he expounds upon and sometimes changes these laws with a "but I tell you" (see verses 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). Isn't this rather presumptuous of Jesus to take the Law that God gave to Moses and dare to "reinterpret" it this way? His way if all those "but I tell yous" are a clue as to who is offering opinion on these matters.

I suppose it's no wonder that when Jesus finished this sermon, Matthew 7 records:

28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Someone suggested we should read straight through the prophetic books of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Obadiah, Joel, Habakkuk, Micah, etc.) to the end of Matthew 7 in order to better realize the amazement of these people. Whereas the prophets stated, "The Lord God says" in conveying the Almighty's message to the people, Jesus boldly declares, "I say to you." Indeed he taught "as one who had authority"!

Another thing to look for as you read these 28 verses, notice how relationships are important to Jesus. In dealing with hatred towards people, settling matters with an adversary, treatment of women and divorce situations. Even oaths and just letting your "yes" be a "yes" and your "no" a "no." Notice how many of these situations deal with relationships with fellow humans.

I speak a lot about how following Jesus is a relationship and not a religion. Religions are humans' attempts at meeting certain moral standards with hopes that God will have mercy and allow them into heaven. Truly knowing Jesus and following and abiding in him is about relationships. Relationships restored, relationships enjoyed - now and throughout eternity.



Wrestling said...

The book I read by Sanders was saying that Jesus never abrogated any of the law, and that in each of these cases all he's really doing is explaining the full implications of the law and making its interpretation stricter. It said that Jesus would have generated a lot more hostility if he'd really suggested abandoning parts of the law like the food laws... but then again, it seems there were people hostile to him... so I don't know what I think.

In any case, I like the way he sets the bar really high. I believe ethics/morals need to be perfectionistic. I also believe we can't *be* perfect, of course, but I don't think a moral code should be realistic!

People tell me Islam is very realistic. As a small example, a Muslim is allowed to lie and deny their faith if needed to save their life. Now, I don't really think I would condemn someone for lying in that situation. It's understandable. BUT I don't want a moral code that panders to my weakness - where's the inspiration to do better?

Having said that, the one topic in these passages that I don't understand is the one about swearing oaths. What is wrong with swearing an oath? I went to a meeting about the Quakers recently and they are originally very very literalist in things like this - they used to refuse to swear oaths in court and they would be jailed for it! I was told basically the message is that you should be telling the truth all the time, and so there should be no need for swearing an oath that you will tell the truth. I'm not sure I completely understand that, but yep - they took it very literally and paid a high price for it.

So although I believe in having perfectionistic morals, I guess I don't really believe in being rigid about following it to the letter. :)

Suroor said...

One thing that I don't understand about some Christian interpretations of Jesus' teachings is that there is a very strong adherence on NT and isolation of Jesus from history and OT. For example, I was watching this video of a Christian priest who was saying how dirty pork is and why Christians should NOT eat pork and in comments there were all these Christians literally yelling at him and saying that Jesus has purified all food. However, Jesus was a Jew. He was a Rabbi. He was a student and teacher of the Law. I am certain he never ate pork himself as a practicing Jew!

How I understand is that he didn't abrogate any Law - he always said "you may have heard" and never said "you may have *read*."

Written scripture had immense influence but most couldn't even read. I believe the oral message was often full of errors and differed from the original message that was written. I think what Jesus did was refer to and impress upon the correct understanding of the written message (which he as a teacher and rabbi could read for himself and understand) by saying often that "you may have *heard* ... but that is wrong and the correct understanding is this."

Interestingly, this is a very common Arab way of speaking. An Arab teacher would often start explaining something by saying "you must have learned this but..."

Suroor said...

I went back to the passage you linked, Matthew 5:21-48, and Jesus always says "you have heard" - very interesting that he doesn't say "it is written."

You know Susanne, your belief in the 'relationship' with Jesus is something that really inspires me. I like that a lot.

Wrestling said...

Suroor - that makes a lot of sense, thank you!

Susanne said...

Sarah, that's right! Often Jesus made the interpretation stricter. I think he was challenging some of the interpretations the Jewish leaders had made. Perhaps they were lenient on men at the expense of women so he upped the standards especially on things like divorce. From what I understand, Jewish men were a lot like some Muslims and given the option of easy divorce if the wife didn't please him somehow. (On the other hand, women had no such easy option to get rid of horrid men!) Jesus thought this easy disposal of women was ludicrous so he raised the bar. I like that about him, too.

When people argue that Christians corrupted the Bible and changed things, do they really think we would have made harder rules to follow? The history of "Christianity" doesn't exactly exemplify that whole loving your enemies thing for starters. And don't get me started on divorce and the way people practice this so freely now.

I don't think Jesus abandoned the food laws. I believe he ate kosher, but he also knew that it wasn't the things you put into your body that defiled you, but what came out of your heart. My study Bible says that Jesus went to the heart of the matter knowing that murder and hatred actually starts within. Really. Don't most evil deeds start with thoughts? Don't acts of rape or immorality begin with undressing women in your mind, imagining how it would be to 'have' her? So Jesus' words often deal with the thoughts knowing that if you don't stop them there - if you allow yourself the "pleasure" of thinking through these things, you will be hard pressed to stop yourself when those situations arise. Do you agree or do you think this is silly?

Susanne said...

As for the food rules, many Christians nowadays actually look to teachings in Acts where Peter has the vision about clean and unclean foods and later to Paul's teachings concerning doubtful things (e.g. Romans 14). And also since most Christians are not Jews, we don't believe we have to adhere to rules God gave the Jewish people in Moses' time. We think those were for those children of Israel at that time in history because God wanted them to be separate and different -- holy and set apart for Him.

I like what you said here:

"In any case, I like the way he sets the bar really high. I believe ethics/morals need to be perfectionistic. I also believe we can't *be* perfect, of course, but I don't think a moral code should be realistic!"

True what you said about "the inspiration to do better." Great point.

Thanks for your question about oaths. I've read that Jews at that time would carelessly make oaths and say such things as "I swear to God" --maybe in modern terms we could think of all those Muslims who say "InshaAllah." I've heard from other Muslims that they often say this in the Middle East meaning maybe they will do something or maybe not. It's like they don't want to commit to keeping their word so they throw it off on God by saying "Oh, well, Lord willing." Being interpreted -- "if I feel like getting around to keeping my word, I will. If not, I guess God willed me to be lazy like this and not do what I said." I believe the point is that Jesus wants us to tell the truth. Let your "yes" be a "yes" and your "no" a "no" -- be people of integrity, be a "man of your word." I recall old timers saying years ago people didn't need these multi-page contracts. People just agreed to do a job for a set price and they shook hands on it and it was settled. They were people of their words. Jesus wants us to be like this -- why are oaths necessary if you say what you mean and do what you promise to do?

Suroor, thank you for what you shared. Please see what I wrote above re: the food thing. I really liked what you said about the written vs. oral tradition. Excellent points which make lots of sense. I always thought Jesus made most of the rules harder in some ways, but as I said above to Sarah, I didn't mind them. I can see Jesus' points about evil deeds beginning within so he always made sense to me.

I'm so glad you ladies discussed these things with me! I really really really enjoy the interaction and hearing your responses and questions and comments. Thanks soooooo much!

Btw, Suroor, please see the post about my grandparents if you haven't already. I did that one just for you. I know you were not around for a few days so I thought I'd mention it. :)

Susanne said...

P.S. Suroor, as for Jesus teaching like an Arab...maybe it's a Middle Eastern trait rather than "Arab." :)

Also, thank you re: what you said about Jesus and relationships. I hope you see my point for stressing that. :)

Love you both and talk to you soon!

Suroor said...

Susanne, please give me the url of the post on food. Maybe I have read it? I don't remember though. Your posts are always so powerfully packed with interesting info :) I wish, wish, wish I could quote the NT like you! Somehow I always visualise Jesus smiling down at you, my dear friend.

Yes, ME not Arab :-) Athoobilla! Forgive me Jesus. Haha! Do you think he enjoys my sense of humour (or lack of it!)??

Sarah and Susanne, it may interest you both - the book Misquoting Jesus (I must return to it. Left it in the middle) mentions at length the importance of the written word which gave Torah the power it got.

PS: Please ignore the grammatical typos in the earlier comment! I was thinking something and writing something else! Typical me.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I don't have a post on food. I meant to please read what I wrote Sarah above my comment to you. :) I think I will write a post on "why I don't eat kosher" or something like that one day soon. That might help explain my stance on this issue. Anything else you want me to try to discuss? :)

LOLOLOLOL...you cracked me up with what you said about your sense or humor! :-D :-D :-D I really didn't mean it quite the way you took it. Ha, ha....OK...maybe I did on a subconscious level! ;)

Maybe you can blog about some spiritual things one day soon. I'd love to read about things you are learning from books. *hint, hint* LOVED your "T" blog!

Wrestling said...

"if you allow yourself the "pleasure" of thinking through these things, you will be hard pressed to stop yourself when those situations arise. Do you agree or do you think this is silly?"

I agree. I remember about a year ago I found an Islamic article saying that bad thoughts are not sins, and I liked the fact that you don't have to feel guilty about the thoughts that pop into your head. But I think if you allow yourself to dwell on negative thoughts, as you say, it can end up affecting what you do. Thoughts are really powerful!

So I think we do well to control the thoughts we can control, and not feel bad about the ones that pop in uninvited. :)

Re the swearing oaths, that makes sense - I guess in an indirect way, having the option of swearing an oath gives you license to be less than true to your word at other times. So it's "realistic" and not "idealistic" enough. I think I get that!

Susanne said...

Sarah, glad you came back to leave a follow-up comment!

You said:

"So I think we do well to control the thoughts we can control, and not feel bad about the ones that pop in uninvited. :)"

Exactly! We cannot help things popping into our minds, but we can control whether or not we stay with that thought and explore its possibilities. Kind of like the example I gave earlier about lusting after women, undressing them in your mind and imagining how it'd be to have sex with them. Likewise you cannot always help what you see in public -- a scantily-clad person goes by. But can CAN control whether your gaze lingers or you take second and third and fourth looks. I think you get the idea. . . :)

Glad the oath thing makes sense. It's not so much a total forbidding of taking them -- God swears on his own name in the OT -- rather the principle of being people of our words -- if we make promises, keep them if at all possible. That's how I see it.

Thanks again for all you contributed to this post. I enjoyed it!

Amber said...

I think if you write the thing, you can speak with authority about it. Since it was God's Law He was teaching about, why wouldn't He teach with authority?

I think He was clearing up a lot of missteaching, but also, moving the people towards the deeper, true meaning of all those laws.

Susanne said...

Amber, of course that is the conclusion that I draw as well. Jesus is God, therefore, He can say "I say to you" unlike Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jeremiah, et al. Thanks for bringing up this point! :)