Red Letter Year: 3/18

Matthew 5:21-32

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.

You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”


Interesting that this is our Red Letter Year reading on the same day my other post is about God not being about rules the way religion is. I promise I didn’t plan that out. I wrote the other one first before even looking at today’s passage (probably should cross check beforehand next time). But perhaps it is fitting because this passage has been overused quite a bit in the rule production racket. The last one here on divorce has especially been used against people when they are already suffering. Hard to imagine Jesus wanting us to use his teaching to kick a person while they’re down. So what are we to do with these commands?

I find it interesting that very conservative, religious folks want to post copies of the Ten Commandments all over the place. I never hear of anyone wanting to post The Sermon on the Mount up instead. I think that’s because the Ten Commandments come off as kind of easy. Don’t kill anyone? Okay, I can do that. Don’t steal? Got it. Don’t bear false witness? You mean like officially, don’t say untrue things that get people in legal trouble? Sure, I can handle that. I’m not saying I have kept them all perfectly my whole life, but I probably have good stretches where none of the Ten gets broken. You probably do better than me.

But this stuff, what Jesus says here? No way. I can’t do this stuff. It’s March Madness, I know for a fact before it’s over, some ref is getting called names by me (whether out loud or in my head – same thing, Jesus goes inside the head!). Gouging out eyes and cutting off hands? What? And that’s just the point Jesus is making. We reduce the commands of God to things we can keep ourselves. We often apply uneven standards, harder on some, easier on others, but for the most part we interpret them in ways that guarantee we can adhere to them. So Jesus explains just how far we really are from keeping them at all, how utterly dependent we are on him to save us from our sinful condition and enable us to obey God in a real, meaningful way. We want to make it so we aren’t dependent on the Holy Spirit to obey, but Jesus won’t let us have that because He knows our own efforts at making an keeping laws always end up in slavery and suffering. Only obedience on his terms leads to freedom and joy.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.