Category: Casual Commentary

September 30, 2020

Matthew 5
Murder and Anger vv. 21-26 (Part 2)

Israel’s means of atonement (“at-one-ment”) was blood sacrifice. As the penitent brought his lamb to the altar he would press his hands down on the lamb’s head conferring his guilt to the helpless animal. He would make a statement of confession, something like, “I confess my wrongdoing, let this act be for my covering.” Then the animal was slain, the blood poured out on the altar, and the priest declared abolition.

Jesus says, before you are reconciled to God you must be reconciled to your “brother” or “sister”. The anger must be dealt with. Deal with it by confessing to the object of your anger, and then confess it to God. The Lord can then forgive. The cumulative effect of unconfessed anger resulting in murder, will be avoided. One cannot love God and hate neighbour. It is out of synch with heaven’s heartbeat.

What is more, Jesus says, if you deal with your anger in God’s way, you will avoid not only murder but also the possibility of a costly lawsuit. Be practical as well as spiritual.

September 23, 2020

Matthew 5
New vs. Old vv. 21-48 

So, not that Jesus had put pharisaic righteousness into perspective, he proceeded to describe the “new wine” proceeding from both Old Testament Law and Oral Law. He starts with murder and anger.

Murder and Anger vv. 21-26 (Part 1)

You will notice as you read from 5:21 through to the end of the chapter, that each paragraph begins with, “You have heard that it was said…” This, of course, was how the illiterate and unlearned had been taught the law. Both the Old Testament Law and the scribal (Oral) Law were read and/or spoken to the people. Their knowledge was based on hearing. Jesus gives them an “earful” of what lies behind what they have heard.

Of course you should not murder, says Jesus, but that horrific outcome is rooted in something that precedes it: anger. Both epithets, “Raca!” and “You fool!” expose a low view of neighbour. In modern parlance it is utter disdain that spews “Empty head! Blockhead! Numbskull! You stupid! Apostate fool! Outcast! Scoundrel! Foreigner!” These accusations are bathed in contempt and “justify” murder in the view of the murderer. This low life is expendable! The world is better without them! They deserve to die! This outrage fuels the knife. Indeed the thrust of the weapon requires the impetus that anger provides.

Those who heard these words, like us who read them, pause. We’re all guilty of anger. It may not have overcome us yet, but the potential is there to lash out at someone. So Jesus calls for pre-emptive action.

September 16, 2020

Matthew 5
The New Law vv. 17-20 (Part 2)

Jesus proclaimed the “springtime” of God’s dealings with Israel after a four hundred year drought of hearing from the Lord. His “green leaf” message had full regard fro the ancient stock and vine of the Law and the Prophets. Indeed, as he put it, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (v.17). His words were to bring photosynthetic new life to the great principles of old Sinai. Indeed, he presents a “New Sinai”, in bursting color. But he does not do so at the expense or eradication of the old, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (v.18).

In Jesus’ time the “Law” was understood by most Israelites as the “oral” or “scribal” law, the expansion/reduction of the mosaic law into thousands of rules and regulations. The oral had great impact because that was how a largely illiterate culture was taught and retained God’s commands. As such it was rife with man-made legalisms that burdened, rather than released, the spirit of man. This was the law that Jesus, and later the apostle Paul, took umbrage with. This was the Petri dish which incubated repression rather than liberation. It was the fungus growing on the stately stock of the Ten Commandments.

Jesus saw manmade constructions as a “relaxing…liberalizing… watering-down… setting aside” (various translations of v.19) of the pure gold of God’s law. Rabbi Hillel, the liberal, was as guilty of the “fungification of the Law” as much as Rabbi Shamai, the conservative. Both liberal and conservative schools were codifying, thereby legislating, something that was living and breathing with the pulse of God’s love for the world. Jesus fulfills the law by excising the legal and personifying the heart of God. As the apostle John said, “God is love”. And love is always alive, dynamic, not static. Jesus changed a negative into a positive. The old “Thou shalt not” became “Blessed are they that…” Law morphed into love. St. Paul put it this way, “Love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Ro. 13:10).

September 9, 2020

Matthew 5
The New Law vv. 17-20 (Part 1)

Later in his writing about Jesus, Matthew (9:17) recalls Jesus saying, “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Radical leaders often use this saying as a rationale for destroying all vestiges of a former era. They see their scorched-earth privy as the only way to effecting change. And, many of these revolutionaries have seen their actions as divinely ordained.

Jesus would vilify such superficial and destructive zeal as much as he criticized the intransigence of the established old order of pharisaic righteousness. Both radical and reactionary are guilty of blindness. The issue ultimately is not old versus new. Rather it is the new growing out of the old. New branches from old roots producing new fruit.

New wine never comes from new vines. I quote an article entitled, “When it come to grape vines, old is gold (The Globe and Mail, April 03, 2012):
Old vines yield more concentrated fruit, resulting in richer wines with more sumptuous balance. [Age] can mean 30 years. In Australia, California, and Spain, the cutoff is more like 50 or 60… a few California producers, with vineyards planted 80-100 years ago, have adopted the designation ‘ancient vines’…the oldest dating back more than 150 years.

Every spring we see the principle of new growing from old born out in the budding of trees and plants that have been dormant throughout winter. It’s always a wonder. Miraculous even. In every way those youthfully green new leaves are the “fulfillment” of the old root system which has not only stood the test of time but feeds it in the present. And, ironically, it’s these new leaves that enable the photosynthesis giving ongoing life to the old roots. You can’t have one without the other.