Jesus continues with more “You have heard…but I say” statements as He continues on with the Sermon on the Mount. Now He moves on to talking about the law and the legal obligations of people.
Firstly He points out that while the law technically permits divorce, in the plan of the Kingdom divorce is restricted to an unfaithful partner. This was a radically different attitude to that of the religious leaders of the day, and was a continuation of Jesus pointing people back to the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Yes the law permitted divorce, but Jesus reminded those listening that in the Kingdom life divorce should be considered a rarity, not the norm.
Jesus also addresses the law of revenge. God had given Moses the command “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. But this had not been intended as a formula for revenge. It had been intended as a limit. It was the absolute maximum punishment allowed and was meant to stop people receiving punishment vastly in excess of the offence committed. But people like the idea of revenge. We like to make those who hurt us suffer. If someone strikes us our nature is to fight back and defend ourselves. But you only need to look at Northern Ireland to see the devastating effect of 45 years of an eye for an eye as atrocities by terrorists for one community led to retaliation from the other community, which in turn sparked their own retaliation from the other community. Tragically, both sides claimed to believe in God and yet ignored so much of His word.
But Jesus teaches us that revenge should not be our attitude in the kingdom life. For we know that it is not our place to seek vengeance, but God’s. And we know that as citizens of the Kingdom we have received forgiveness through the mercy and grace of God, so we must show mercy and grace to those to whom before we would have sought revenge.
Jesus also teaches us to have an attitude of generosity, instructing us to “give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (Matt 5:42). He teaches that our attitude shouldn’t be to give the bare minimum we can get away with but to give abundantly more. The people were under Roman rule and could be forced to carry a Roman soldier’s gear for a mile, but in verse 41 Jesus says that due to the kingdom life attitude of abundant generosity they should carry it for two instead – we are to go above and beyond what is expected to show the radical generosity of the Kingdom that is ultimately seen in Jesus giving up His life for us on the cross. Generosity is a theme Jesus will return to later in the Sermon on the Mount.
“Vengeance is mine…For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants” Deuteronomy 32:35-36 ESV
- What ways do scoeity’s attitudes vary from Kingdom attitudes?
- What are modern equivalents of carrying gear an extra mile?
- Are we as Christians known for our abundant generosity?