Sermon on the Mount series: Takes on Matthew 5:38-48

Posted on Mar 22, 2014 in Theology blog | 3 comments

by Roland

Matt 38-48   (Preface to Everything: It seems to me…….)

The Beatitudes make sense if viewed through the lens of Jesus ANNOUNCING a New World Order in fulfillment of His Father’s master Plan to restore fallen creation—a setting of the world to rights (i.e. right-side up). Expectations and business as usual are upset (just like the moneychanger’s table). God is now starting to take charge on his way to becoming All in All.  The anthropological history of mimesis, disregard of the Other and mimetic violence will give way as God finally becomes king. The beatitudes are necessary because you can’t tell the players without a (new and unexpected) score card.

EYES, TEETH, CHEEKS AND REALLY MEAN JERKS: These passages make sense if viewed through the lens of Jesus reworking of the Shema:

Here oh Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) is God, the Lord is one

Love the Lord with all your heart soul and strength (and, now, mind)
And love God by following Jesus – and love others.

All of the Hebrew sacred Scriptures now hang on, and what Jesus is all about and what following him really means all boils down to, this magnificent summary statement.

So now let’s measure these passages by the Shema+

Then: in your infancy I had to give you strict rules so that you could survive even as a remnant and your culture and society would not implode and I could carry out the Plan I promised Abraham. I had to command you to stop running around killing everybody. Somebody would knock your tooth out and you would slaughter the entire tribe. I commanded you to exact no more than proportional retribution.

Now: As the Lord told Jeremiah: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” I am no longer primarily concerned with changing your behavior as I am concerned with changing you. Different behavior comes naturally and without commandments, statutes and ordinances after you have become what I intended you to be.  This is the meaning of “be perfect.”  Teleios means to become complete and, here, particularly means to become fully human.  This is what Paul in Philippians was referring to when he said. “Not that I have already obtained this or have already made perfect.” And “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Question: Why in the world would I turn my cheek if I just got smacked?  Answer (and think about this closely): Why would you hit somebody you loved?  If we are to be truly renewed by the transforming of our minds and are truly to have the Shema+ written on our hearts (just not on stone tablets) and are to truly love God by following Jesus and love God by loving others—including our enemies (those who hate us and mistreat us and certainly don’t love us)—then we, as fully-humans-in-transition or training would never dream of harming someone we loved.  There won’t be a whole lot of smacking going on in God’s Kingdom.  We are preparing now for our future (here).

Personal Illustration: I had to deal with one of my kid’s autism while she was growing up. It was pretty severe and she had no idea about social conventions, conversational cues or appropriate behavior whatsoever. She dealt with everything in an entirely unfiltered (by culture or custom) manner.  We were in the car and she was upset about the way a veterinarian had handled her precious bird. She kept raising her voice at me and scolding me, accusing me of this and that. She did it over and over and over again – for about five minutes. She wouldn’t stop. Finally, admittedly in frustration, I snapped back at her. She was crestfallen that I had yelled at her. She was hurt. Through oncoming tears and with quivering voice, she questioned why I would raise my voice to her. I was dumbfounded. Here, she had been screaming at me for five minutes and I snapped back and now she’s all upset. I explained that to her. Then, she responded, “But why does any of that give you the right to yell at me?” Guess what? I had no answer. She was right. Simply because of the way she treated me, that did not justify me hurting somebody I loved. This is a lesson that can be taught only by an autistic child – or by God.

But, you say, I love my daughter but I certainly don’t love anyone who strikes my cheek (or steals by shirt or forces me to walk a mile).  That’s the whole point!  Things are (and will be) radically different. We WILL love our enemies.  Wolves, leopards, bears and lions are all going to lie down and eat with baby lambs and cows (Isiah 11).  The renewed and merged Heaven and Earth will enjoy a very different world order.  The Prophets and Revelation are just loaded with this type of stuff.  Don’t bother learning to play a harp.  Get ready to hug your share of a**holes.

Now read the new NIV version of 43-44 again, with all this in mind:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:18) Hate your enemy [not found in the OT]’  But here is what I tell you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.  Then you will be sons of your Father who is in heaven. “He causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Even the tax collectors do that.  If you greet only your own people, what more are you doing than others? Even people who are ungodly do that. [Now, let me translate 48:] So be fully human and complete as your Father in heaven is fully complete.”

Finally, read one more time what Jesus said everything boils down to:

Here oh Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) is God, the Lord is one

Love the Lord with all your heart soul and strength (and, now, mind)
And love God by following Jesus – and love others.

“But that’s really really hard to do!”  That’s what Paul said too.  And that’s why God is in three persons—and not two.


  1. a short teleios joke:

    Mrs. Goldstein was walking down the street with her two grandchildren. A friend stopped to ask her how old they were.

    She replied, “The doctor is five and the lawyer is seven.”

    rim shot

  2. “The basic task of exegesis is to address, as a whole and in parts, the historical questions: What was the author saying to the readers; and why? These questions ultimately demand an answer at the broadest level in the form of a hypothesis to be tested against the verse-by-verse details.” It has always seemed to me, that the testing hypothesis can usually be found in the understanding that the great authors of the Old Testament books were great storytellers – invariably in an oral tradition. God is the master storyteller. All of the Bible is set ablaze by stories – stories which are all one story. When his son climbed up to the top of the mount (and when he came down off of it), he was telling stories – stories which could be understood within the context of the singular, overarching story told by his father. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (in the tradition of his, and hour, Jewish forefathers) tells this tale:

    When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

    Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

    God made man because he loves stories.

    Those to whom Jesus was speaking from that mount were familiar with God’s story. What Jesus was trying to get them to understand is that the familiar story was now all being reworked around him. The problem for us is exactly the opposite, i.e. that we are all too familiar with the story of Jesus and all too unfamiliar with the story that he assumed his audience was steeped in. If either story is ignored, the pieces just won’t fit.

    Remember, God made man because he loves stories.


  3. Your comment–the Lord says “I am no longer primarily concerned with changing your behavior as I am concerned with changing you.” Powerful. A closer relationship now in contrast to then? A “more mature” relationship? Many challenges.

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