May 31 – Matthew 5:21-26
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.
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?