May 31 – Matthew 5:21-26

6 steps to take in the wake of George Floyd’s death

Don’t miss our post on what you and your group members can do in light of the tragedies of the last week.
Read more

One of the amazing things about God’s Word is that every passage has multiple layers of significance, with timeless truths interwoven with timely words. God has spoken to countless people over the millennia through this passage, and yet it speaks in a unique way to the situation we find ourselves in, in a divided USA here in 2020. If God is all-knowing (which he is) then he had this conflict in mind when Matthew penned these words; it is right for us to read this in terms of what our nation is currently experiencing, particularly in what your black brothers and sisters have been grieving. In fact, I’d extend that to say if we don’t connect this passage with the now we’re in, we’re missing the text altogether.

Now, to take a step back, this week we’re starting a new 10-week sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, the most famous sermon in history. Matthew placed this sermon early on in his account of Jesus’ ministry, and likely he did this because it so encapsulates Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God and how the Kingdom informs the lives of its citizens. The key to understanding the sermon is actually found right before our passage for this week, in verses 17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (5:17)

This presents an interesting interpretive question that may or may not come up in your discussion. Some have taught that Jesus’ primary objective in the Sermon on the Mount is to illustrate just how high the bar of the Mosaic Law is. For example, instead of just holding people to the sixth commandment to not murder, he tells them to not even get angry with your brother. This interpretive stance concludes that Jesus does this bar-setting to 1. show how great his earthly obedience was and 2. show us that we could never possibly attain moral perfection under the law and were thus in need of mercy from a Heavenly Judge.

Which, to be clear, those two points are true. But I don’t think that was Jesus’ primary objective here, particularly because he phrases so much of the sermon in terms of commandments. “Love your enemies,” (5:44) “Pray then like this,” (6:9) “Do unto others” (7:12). We are legitimately meant to do these things. In light of the rest of the Bible, we know we can’t possible save ourselves. But to only ask whether or not obedience can save you entirely misses the way obedience is meant to shape you

In this specific passage, Jesus tells us that it’s simply not good to enough to just keep yourself from murdering someone. That’s an awfully low bar. Jesus is further interested in what you think, feel, and say to other humans. In fact, he mentions insults twice; words matter because “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45b) Relational strife is so serious to him he thinks that if you’re in the temple sacrificing to God but are dealing with relational strife you should put it on pause to go deal with the problem first. I think in this little parable Jesus is telling us how urgent the need for reconciliation is, how our horizontal relationships with other humans affect our vertical relationship with God, and even that reconciliation is worship, that in pausing your sacrifice to ask your brother for forgiveness you never interrupted your worship of God.

And that’s where this passage connects with our now. Our nation, the Triangle, even our specific neighborhoods, are in need of reconciliation. There is much relational strife, and this is very serious to our Savior. Christ entered into our mess to deal with it, so we engage instead of avoid. His followers are marked by his mission of reconciliation to become ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). In the coming days and weeks, we will have opportunities to serve our neighbors in their hurt and sorrow, to “bear [their] burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2) We must not let these opportunities pass us by.

Questions for Discussion

•  Would someone read Matthew 5:21-26 for us?

•  How do you think this passage connects to the events of the last week or so?

•  What is challenging to you about this passage?

•  Why do you think Jesus talks so seriously about relational strife here?

•  Specifically when it comes to issues around race, what do you think it looks like to obey this passage right now?