“I can work with the people here,” a city official had told me. He then compared the city where he currently worked with a previous city where people would take advantage of him and turn his offers of assistance into endless delays to avoid correcting violations.
In the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is not at interested in working with us nor giving us any wiggle room in complying with God’s moral code. If anything Jesus wants to give us less wiggle room, less opportunity to justify ourselves.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” — Matthew 5:21-22
“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, … Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” — Matthew 5:33-34a, 37
Imagine a world where everyone spoke truthfully, so there would be no need to swear an oath when speaking in court. We would no longer have a need for contracts. Negotiations would be times when people openly explained all of their concerns and desires, their skills and limits, for all parties would seek to maximize everyone’s interests.
Imagine a world where anger and insults never happened, for people cared deeply about establishing and maintaining solid relationships with one another.
Such a place would truly be Heaven on earth!
What if people started acting as if God’s Kingdom already existed on earth? Yes a few hardhearted people would take advantage of the truth tellers and those who shun even verbal hostilities. Perhaps a small group of such high minded people might actually begin to slowly change the world? I would call such a group of people the body of Christ Jesus in the world or simply the Church.
I will have more to say about Matthew 5:31-37 at 8:15 AM or 10 AM on Sunday, February 12th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Yours in Christ,
Robert Shaw, Pastor