Today, we get to begin a new week of study as we continue our journey through the Bible. We are currently looking at the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has been teaching on murder and adultery, and he even offered some words about divorce. He then warns against making an oath, so be careful in saying, "I swear by the God of heaven..." Next, Jesus again quotes scripture from what is our Old Testament:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39)
Hmmm...I don't know very many people who have actually said that they like this passage. Jesus has already assured the intended audience that he did not come to do away with the Law. (Matthew 5:17) But, it sure sounds like he is getting very close to doing so. He is quoting from Deuteronomy. If you recall, the Law allowed for someone to enact punishment, but not punishment that was extreme. In other words, if someone stole a candy bar, that person could not be executed or thrown into prison for a long amount of time. The punishment had to fit the crime. Today, when executions take place there are often protesters representing each side of the issue. Often, there will be those holding up signs that read: "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth." Of course, they are suggesting that the Bible says this. Well, this is a classic example of folks resorting to the old line: "The Bible says..." Yes, the Old Testament does say it, but then Jesus comes along and says what he says. I would venture to say that we don't always like what Jesus had to say.
Don't get me wrong, I believe that a civilized society has to have a justice system. I am not making any statements here regarding punishment. To this day, I pray for justice for the little girl murdered long ago in the Ozarks, buried in a creek bed, and left. So, I do believe in justice. However, is justice what Jesus is dealing with here? I would argue that Jesus is warning against retaliation and vengeance. This is a hard saying from Jesus. Is it impossible? We live in a world that constantly tests our patience. We seem to be living in a world where everyone is angry. People seem to act on the spur of the moment. They get upset and they just go berserk. My favorite movie of all time was Billy Jack, starring the late Tom Laughlin in the leading role. There were actually four movies with the Billy Jack character. (Born Losers, Billy Jack, The Trial of Billy Jack, and Billy Jack Goes to Washington) *I assure you that that will be perhaps the most useless information you'll receive all day. In Billy Jack, the main character was dealing with injustice. However, he dealt with it by resorting to violence. In one scene, after a town bully poured flour over a Native American teenage girl, Billy Jack walked into the picture. He looked at the bully and said: "You know, Bernard, (the character's name) I want you to know that I try, I really try (I say these words to my wife all the time) But every time I see a young lady (then he talks about what just happened to the young girl) being victimized by a brute such as your self...I...just go....berserk.(Then after a few karate chops and kicks later the bad guy is lying unconscious.) The entire movie dealt with Billy Jack's reaction to violence. He met violence with violence. The next movie in the series continued this theme, but looked more at Billy Jack's attempt to "mellow out." The movie ended with John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance." Then, there was the final installment of the Billy Jack movies. (It really should have ended after Billy Jack.) In the final movie, Billy Jack goes to Congress where he takes over the Senate floor and wins his fight by talking. In the final scene, his girlfriend (who has been trying to make Billy more peace-loving for years) says to him, "You won Billy, and you didn't even have to take your boots off." (a reference to him taking his boots off before a fight scene...karate) Is this what Jesus is getting at in this passage?
Well, if you thought that was a difficult passage in which to deal with, I warn you, the following one is no easier. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43-44) O.K., at this time is when someone was probably asking Jesus: "Umm...sir, what are you on?" Did he just say that we are to love our enemies? Have you noticed that Jesus began dealing with each issue with the words: "You have heard it said?" In other words, "The Bible says..." That's basically what he is doing here. I wonder how many people who shout out those words "The Bible says" actually know what the Bible says. I still remember my very first sermon. I can't remember yesterday's, but I can remember that first one preached in August 1988. During that sermon I said: "The Bible says...The family that prays together stays together." Oh my! The people shouted "Amen! Preach it, brother!" People were agreeing with me and I was just having myself a great time. What was wrong with that? The Bible does not say "The family that prays together stays together." Well, guess what! When Jesus says, "You have heard it said "love your neighbor and hate your enemy..." That line in not found in the Bible at all. There is no biblical text to support that line. Jesus may very well be playing on people's thoughts about their enemy.
So, what is Jesus doing here? He says, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (Matthew 5:46) Love is not necessarily a Christian word. "What?" you may ask. No, I am serious. Think about it. There is no doubt in my mind that my dog, I mean my son's dog that we are keeping for him while he is away at college, that we are giving back to him when he gets his own apartment, loves me. I have no doubt that non-believers love other people. Jesus even says so: "And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Mathew 5:47) Jesus is saying that it is not enough to love those whom we are expected to love. He is calling for the believers to go farther than others, in other words, love your enemies too.
Jesus does not just say "love your enemies" he adds, "Pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44b) Well, that dos it! How can anyone ask someone to do such a thing? What kind of love is this? Well, That is something to think about, but here is one thing I think we can conclude: prayer may not necessarily change the person I'm praying for (but hopefully it will), but it may very well change me.
Well, if all that was not enough, Jesus concludes by saying, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) Now, I don't know about you but I'm always hearing folks say, "No one is perfect." My wife reminds me all the time that I'm not perfect. What in the world is Jesus saying to us? Well, the word used here for our word perfect is teleios. This word does not mean moral perfection. Instead, it means "complete or ended." It is a word that has to do with our intentions. It means "be perfect in intention which leads to action. In doing this we complete the purpose for which God created us."
Well, that's enough for one day. Join me again tomorrow as we begin looking at chapter six of Matthew. -Pastor Rick