Radical Discipleship - Part II


Gospel Matthew 5:21–48

It was said … But I say to you …
whoever murders will be liable to judgment everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment
You shall not commit adultery everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart
Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery
You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn Do not take an oath at all
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Do not resist the one who is evil.
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Commentary


Another good work is related to oaths. The book of Sirach has this advice for us: “Do not accustom your mouth to an oath, and do not become used to the naming of the Holy One” (Sir 23:9). Unfortunately, the practice of swearing and making all sorts of oath spread among the people. They were swearing by the temple, by the gold of the temple, by the altar, by the gift of the altar (Matt 23:16–19), by heaven and the earth, by Jerusalem and even by their head (Matt 5:34–36). It was not just foolish, but downright irresponsible. Joshua Ben Sira wisely said: “a man of many oaths will be full of lawlessness” (Sir 23:11).


The oaths were meant to bind promises and affirm that what one said was true. But, this Jewish casuistry often proved a vehicle of deceit. One could revoke his promise by saying that it was not binding. “I swore by the temple, not by the gold of the temple” (see Matt 23:16). And, calling heaven as the witness to your words did not guarantee the truthfulness of the statement. A righteous person does not need to swear, there is no deceit in their heart. Apostle James indicated this truth: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12). The ‘above all” indicates how important it is for a Christian to live in truth.


Next good work is connected with the law of retaliation. This measure-for-measure punishment appears in the book of Exodus: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex 21:23–25). It supposed to make the punishment fit the crime and it was intended to limit the vengeance. Jesus, however, demands much more. By commanding, “do not set yourself against the one who is evil” (Matt 5:39), He indicates that there is no place for vengeance or retaliation within Christian community. “Repay no one evil for evil” (Rom 12:17) and “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). That is the mark of true Christian. We leave vengeance to God and in the meantime: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom 12:20).


Then, Matthew illustrates what it means not to resist the evil one (Matt 5:39–42). Those examples should be seen within first century Palestine occupied by the powerful Roman army. When a roman soldier strikes an unarmed Christ’s disciple on the right cheek, what can he do? Offer him the other one as an act of defiance! It sends a more powerful message than any armed resistance. The same goes for the other two illustrations. By slapping me in the right cheek, by taking my tunic, and by forcing me to go one mile, my oppressor wants to show his power. By offering him the other cheek, by giving him my cloak, and by walking with him another mile, I show him my dignity and freedom.


The last good work is captured in the commandment of loving one’s enemies (Matt 5:44). Apparently, the Old Testament nowhere commands ‘hating one’s enemies’, but there are commandments which charge the Jews to be at enmity with certain nations (see Num 25:17, Deut 7:1–2). The Qumran community spoke about “hatred of all the sons of darkness” and in the time of Jesus, many Jews hated their Roman oppressors. Whether Matthew refers to a popular interpretation of certain biblical passages that gave and perhaps still gives justification to the “hatred of enemies” is not clear. What is clear, however, is the fact that the entire history of salvation bears witness to this corruption of our hearts.


Most of us have that Gentile attitude described in the Gospel. We love those who love us and we hate those who harm us; we are friendly with those who are friendly with us and we are at enmity with those who oppress us. From his disciples, Jesus demands something else: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). He himself prayed for those who crucified him (Luke 23:24). In this way, we prove our true identity: the sons and daughters of our Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:45). “Naive? Anyone who thinks that love of enemies is impractical has not considered the practical consequences of the consequences of hatred of enemies” (Erich Fried).

Conclusion


The first man and woman were created on the sixth day. They were the crown of the old creation, fashioned in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). But then, sin had shattered that image and neither Moses nor the old Law could restore it. But then comes the New Moses. Jesus proclaims the new Law, fulfils the old Law and the Prophets, and recreates man and woman in the image and likeness of the Father who is in heaven. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). The perfection of this image shines in those six good works. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).