Welcome to the final part of the 2nd course of Red Bricks.
Read Matthew 5:38-48
We see that Yeshua is once more going at the Oral Traditions of the Law. The Oral Traditions grew up from the written Law, or Torah, as interpretations of what the teachers of the Law believed that God really meant by the Law itself. We have seen in the last few sessions, that part of what Yeshua did was to encourage people to think again about such traditions, and grasp the real meaning of the Law. Constantly Yeshua showed His disciples that what is important is the Spirit of the Law and not the letter of the Law. God wants us to live according to His Spirit and not according to any man-made rituals and rules. It is important to remember that Yeshua is the Living Word of God. In Him, all of God’s Laws come into fruition.
Here, in this passage, Yeshua refers to an actual written Law, but tells them that thinking it is their right to seek a like for like punishment for a crime against you, isn’t what God wants. Just like with the divorce law we discussed earlier, Yeshua is showing His followers that the eye for an eye approach was only given because the hearts of the Hebrews, back then, were so hard. Yeshua is saying that there is always a better way.
Because of the Oral Traditions, the people had come to assume that vengeance and retribution were given as a right if someone harmed you in anyway, regardless if it were accidental or a deliberate act. Yeshua is challenging that perceived right and saying for us to think again. It may have been taken as a right back in the wilderness when the Law was given in order to satisfy the hardness of the Hebrew’s hearts, but now, we know better. He is The Way.
Always remember that it is God’s right, and His only, to avenge wrongdoing. The Law tells us so in Deuteronomy 32:35. Yeshua, God’s Living Word, says to let this supposed right go, and allow God to work. In fact, Yeshua goes much further by promoting an outlook of not seeking and wanting revenge or retribution, but rather, when someone attacks you, to simply let them. Instead of hitting back or demanding justice, allow them to do it, and go even further than that by not withdrawing if they choose to continue.
In today’s society we find that the news is dominated with stories of people who have had their personal rights infringed and the justice they seek for it. With God, we can let go of what we think are our rights and trust faithfully in Him to right any wrongs. Trust in the justice system of heaven, rather than its earthly counterpart.
Yeshua uses three examples in order to empathize His point, and to ensure that there can be no misunderstanding of His meaning. In the first, He focuses on our physical beings and tells us to allow ourselves to be struck – by doing so He is making it clear that the body is not important. It is our souls that are in danger. In the second example, He shows us that material possessions mean nothing, and if someone wants to take them from us, we should give them freely. Again, He is empathizing that the state of our souls is much more of a consideration than what we own. There can be no comfort in material items. Finally, He shows us that how we spend our time is also to be considered. If we spend it on behalf of others without complaining, that is more in line with God’s way, than if we spent it solely in the pursuit of our own interests. The example He uses was highly significant at the time He spoke. Roman rule had been imposed in Judea, and Roman soldiers could select any person and force them to carry whatever the Romans needed moving, for one mile. Yeshua’s message to us is, don’t worry about it – always go further. Be kinder, be more generous, treat your bodies and all you own as if it is nothing. After all, if it wasn’t for God you wouldn’t have anything to start with.
The following paraphrase of verses 38-42 sums this first passage up nicely. You can find the full paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount on Ken Brown’s website, The Voice of One Crying, by clicking here.
“Here’s another one. You’ve always heard that the punishment should fit the crime.
But, I propose a different way. When someone hurts you, don’t retaliate at all. What does it accomplish? Your retaliation only adds to the pain that already exists. If someone hurts you, take it peacefully. And by that, you’ll prove the sincerity of your love by ending it then and there.
And if anyone ever has reason to take you to court, if he wins his case, pay him even more than the judge requires.
When anyone wants to take unfair advantage of you, fine. Let him do it.
If someone asks you for help, don’t refuse. Even if you think he’s trying to take advantage of your generosity. And if they ask you for a loan, give it to them. Even if you have every reason to believe they’ll never pay it back. I know this is confusing. But this is what I’m trying to tell you: be willing to suffer, if you must; but always refuse to make others suffer, regardless of the circumstances.” [Matthew 5:38-42]
Be willing to suffer. That message is consistent in all of Yeshua’s teaching.
Yeshua then moves on to addressing another Law that has been twisted by the teachers. It was engrained into Hebrew culture to love your neighbour and hate your enemies, but it was never God’s way. His way was misinterpreted by the teachers. The notion of loving enemies and praying for people who mistreat you, was completely alien to the Hebrews. Imagine just how revolutionary and radical it must have sounded to this group of fisherman and common men and women seated at His feet.
He clearly tells them that if you choose His Way, then you will be considered children of God. When Yeshua says that God causes the sun to rise, it rises on both those who follow His ways and those who choose not to. He shows no impartiality. And the rain falls on both too. In this Yeshua is explaining that God loves everyone, regardless. His way is to follow Yeshua in doing the same. To be like God is to love everyone. If we are like Him, then we will be considered His children.
Yeshua continues saying that we shouldn’t only love those who love us. That’s easy to do. There’s nothing difficult in choosing that way. God’s way is to love all, not just the Christians you mix with. Everyone. He uses the example of tax collectors, who were despised as Roman collaborators, and of pagans. It is sad to admit that Christians often fail to go this extra mile in loving other people. If the non Christians can manage it, surely we should go further than that?
His final challenge in this passage is to be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect. We might not ever achieve perfection in this lifetime, but we should always strive for it. This isn’t just a case of wearing a bangle that asks ‘What would Jesus do?‘. No. This is about figuring out in each and every situation just how Yeshua would carry Himself. He is the fullness of all of God’s Laws and our living example of how to live according to the Law. Once Yeshua begins His work in your life, He will continue that work until perfection is attained. Discipleship is all about discipline – learning His way, and not the way of the world. Loving others is the paramount of the Law. Against love there can be no Law.