As Jesus continues expanding on the law of Moses as a way
of life, a little cultural background is in order. Jesus’ society
and culture defined adultery as the male of a community being
dishonored by another man having sexual relations with his
wife. The law focused on the man’s suffering, with little regard
for the well-being of the woman. Jesus declares that faithfulness
and respect need to run deeper, upholding the honor of men
and women in a truly life-giving manner. Women must not be
possessions or objects casually cast out at the whims of the man.
The same was true in matters of divorce. In Jesus’ time, a
man could divorce his wife without turning to the courts; he
simply needed to make the decision in the presence of witnesses
and then give her a certificate. His words and actions would
leave her bereft of any security. A community where people are
disregarded and discarded, Jesus says, does not reflect divine
intent for God’s people.
The same went for swearing oaths. The law stated that persons
must stand by their words if they had promised God they
would do so. But Jesus challenges his hearers to honor every
word they speak. If we cannot trust our neighbors to speak with
integrity to one another in all times and places, how can our
communities experience true life? Jesus sees God’s community
as one where people speak in a transparent and trustworthy
way, keeping community relationships intact because individuals
refuse to break trust for their own gain.
Can you imagine it—a life where we honor every individual
as one truly blessed and beloved by God? How can we start
disentangling ourselves from the cords of death and find the
living way Jesus so passionately presents in the Sermon on the
Mount—and in the sermon he lived with his life?
God, help me honor those around me by saying yes to living truthfully and with integrity, not objectifying others but regarding each as your precious child. Amen.
How are Christians to understand and relate to the Jewish law? The text from Deuteronomy confronts Israel with a sharp choice: Follow the commandments of Yahweh or bow to the gods of the Canaanites. Choosing the law means choosing a way of life. Psalm 119 praises the Torah as God’s gift bestowed on Israel to be the authentic guide as to how life should be lived. Jesus becomes the authoritative interpreter of the Torah, the one who pushes beyond external behavior to a consistency between disposition and deed. Christians are invited by the text to be different and become what Paul describes as “spiritual people.”
• Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20. How do you go about choosing between the call of God and the call of the idols that surround you?
• Read Psalm 119:1-8. How has keeping God’s command- ments been a joyful experience in your life?
• Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. What do you consider to be the “milk” of the gospel versus the “solid food” of the gospel?
• Read Matthew 5:21-37. Which of the “But I say to you” teachings of Jesus surprise you the most? Why?
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