Moses came down from the mountain and said: the good news is that there are only ten commandments, the bad news is that adultery is still in!
Jesus is on the mountainside, and he is teaching the people. As Robert reminded us last week, Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. Rather, he has looked at the over the top efforts of the Pharisees to keep every regulation and has ruled them out. We will have to do better than that. Unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, we will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. We need to be so immersed, so baptised, into God and his kingdom that we find ourselves instinctively living his way.
Jesus gives examples of three of the commandments, and how they apply to us.
First, we are not to murder. But this means more than refraining from pulling the trigger or sticking in the knife. If angry and scornful thoughts come from within us, we are on a downhill slope that will lead us in the same direction as murder. At funerals we say “He did not suffer fools gladly”. This means he was proud, arrogant, and not so far from being a murderer in God’s sight. If we suspect that someone has something against us, Jesus says that we are to take the initiative in putting things right. The NIV says that we should “settle matters quickly” with our adversary on the way to court, but the Greek word really means something like “be well disposed to” or “be on friendly terms with” our opponent. Be positive in your love and goodwill.
Second – adultery. Again, Jesus goes way beyond the letter of the law. You are not keeping this commandment merely by avoiding going to bed with someone who is not your spouse, if instead you are having sinful thoughts about them. This is not necessarily about young men going phooaah! (like Sid James in a Carry On film) This strays over into the tenth commandment – to look at someone with desire, to want to possess them, to regard them almost as an object to meet our needs. We can all do this. How often to hear someone say “Oh so and so, she’s good value!”? God’s agape love reaches out to each of us out of his grace, as Sarah reminded us a few weeks ago; we on the other hand tend to value others for what they can do for us. It’s all about relationships.
We cannot escape from the fact that Jesus holds us to high standards in the area of sexual ethics. We must take this very seriously. Yes, Jesus says, the custom had arisen of permitting divorce. But Jesus also says that the only ground for divorce is if the other party has been unfaithful. The Message offers a helpful translation: "If you divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity)."
But then note that the Greek word Jesus uses does not naturally mean divorced, but actually means "freed" or "released." It is interesting that Jesus used this word here -- if you marry one who is freed, you commit adultery. It is also interesting that the woman is not seen here as the one committing adultery. I find it powerful that the word for divorced is "freed." Many divorced people might find a glimmer of comfort in this!
The main point is that divorce is about the breaking of a relationship and Jesus is all about healing and reconciliation.
Third: oaths and truth telling. It is not simply about what we say but about what we do. Our actions should justify our truthfulness. If we live a truthful life- then there is no need for oaths. The message seems to be that we should not try and bend the rules or find loopholes in the commandments. Rather, if we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness (6:33), we will find ourselves walking in his ways.
The snippet that we have been looking at this morning has not been easy. We read it as part of the greater whole, the Beautiful Attitudes from the beginning of the chapter. So we come to see that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers, these are the ones who will act positively with gentleness, with purity and with truth.
- Is the Communion table a place for the reconciled to come or a place to become reconciled?
- How does the church become a place of reconciliation?
- How to we hold people accountable to their oaths while at the same time allowing for grace when the oaths are broken?
- If we take these words too literally- then don’t we fall into the same legalistic trap as the Pharisees? What is the Spirit of Jesus words? (Reconciliation and right relationship?)