Matthew 5:21-37 is from the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus reminds his listeners (including us) that the law is there to help us know how to live in God’s ways. The thing is, Jesus expands on the meaning of the law (or Ten Commandments). He takes them and adds new and updated information to them so we can understand them better.
“You shall not murder” is one most of us don’t have to worry about, but Jesus adds that even our anger or insults or name calling can be a type of “murder” – hmmm – hadn’t thought about it that way! Ouch! He goes one to say that reconciliation is important, and that we need to make peace with our neighbor before we even present our gifts at the altar. I wonder how many people actually do that! In every commandment that Jesus addresses here, he lifts the definition of following it to a more challenging level.
Committing adultery is far more than just physical infidelity, it happens in our hearts and minds, and it’s more than sex, it is also in the ways we cheat and are unfaithful to our families, friends, employers, and the list could go on and on. Divorce in Jesus’ day was the man’s decision, and Jesus here is giving the woman value and worth. According to the laws of divorce then, a man could divorce a woman for anything even the smallest trivial reason, but Jesus instructs his disciples to honor the woman, thus giving her a safety net that protects her. The exception is if she commits adultery.
I have always understood the idea of “plucking out” or “cutting off” the things that cause us to sin as metaphors, and the point comes across nicely. I’m not sure how people who take the Bible literally deal with those instructions, but since I don’t see a lot of people following through with them, I suspect they take them as metaphors, as well.
For me, the whole point here is that we are called to live with integrity, honesty, and reliability. Our faith brings us to a point where, even though we can’t always live out the commandments perfectly, we can live into what John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) calls “perfection” which is NOT flawlessness but wholeness in God’s love. That love of God that is part of who we are is then shared with other. God is all about relationships: relationship with God in Christ and then relationship with each other. Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus reminds his disciples of that: “‘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.” (NRSV)
If we remember this and try to live by it, we will be moving on to perfection. We will honor God and others. We will live with integrity and honesty. We will live lives of truth, compassion, and caring. May it be so.