Scripture: Matthew 5:27-37
Key verse: (27) “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…”
Reflection: On the first full day of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we visited “The Mount of Beatitudes,” the traditional location of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. It is a beautiful spot, even filled to the brim with tourists and pilgrims. It’s not hard to see why Jesus would have taken his disciples up that hill to offer them his first sermon concerning discipleship.
Yet the serenity of the setting betrays the tension present in Jesus’ sermon. After declaring blessings upon those the world views as cursed, Jesus then talks about the disciple’s relationship to the Jewish law.
Many in the Jewish community thought those who confessed Jesus as the Messiah had rejected the law. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is clear. “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Our reading for today exemplifies the standards Jesus set. He challenges his followers not just to live by the letter of the law, but to embrace the Spirit of the law. This is accomplished by a series of “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you,” statements that up the ante on the law. The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but Jesus says if you objectify another by lust, you already done it. He raises the bar on divorce, and on making oaths. He will go on to challenge them to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile. Jesus challenges his disciples to live not just by the letter of the law, but by the spirit of the law.
Later in Matthew’s gospel, when asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Love is the spirit of the law according to Jesus. I came across this cartoon on Facebook the other day. It’s a pretty good summary of where Jesus is coming from when it comes to understanding the law and the prophets, which is to say, understanding all of Scripture. The cartoon says it all:
Prayer: We long to follow your will, O Lord. Too often we make it too complicated. We debate the meanings of particular verses of your Word. We condemn those who do not agree with our interpretations. Yet you have set a simple standard: love. Love is the heart of your law; loving You, loving one another. While that may not be complicated, it is incredibly challenging. Help us to love this day, O Lord, that we might fulfill the spirit of your law. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].