« Be Perfect »?! (Mat. 5:17-48)

Publié le 17 janvier 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Vincent Bourrel

To participate in the Olympics you need to have achieved a minimum level of performance. If you do not meet this minimum level, your nation deems you unworthy to participate in the competition. So there is always stress until you achieve this minimum level of performance. If the minimum levels are too high and no one reaches them, then there will be no competition, and if the levels are too low, there will be too many people and the games lose their appeal.

We often imagine that entry into the kingdom of heaven is possible for us if we achieve the minimum level of God’s justice. And we can experience the same stress. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was meant to be a scrupulous application of the law, but in reality they altered the law, they usually sought to reduce the requirements of God’s commandments (v. 18-19) by making them more accessible and less onerous, to achieve the minimum level.

Some people who followed Jesus had noticed that Jesus did not speak like the scribes and Pharisees. He did not keep the Sabbath like the Pharisees, and so the crowd thought: He is going to do away with the law.

The law they referred to is the law of God. Jesus did not come to abolish the law (v.17), as if the law were not good. The law reveals the will of the eternal and unchanging God, and it does not change, even over centuries. And Jesus came to explain this law: through his life we ​​learn what it means to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. We understand what the day of rest means, honoring our parents, fidelity, integrity of speech … So it is not a question of the law being changed, altered or reduced in any way, v.18. The religious were satisfied with themselves because they saw themselves as righteous, and the crowd was in awe of them because they thought that they had “achieved the minimum”. But Jesus says v.20 « If your righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven ». He will show that the level of righteousness demonstrated by religious people is very far from that expected by God to be accepted in heaven.

Jesus gives 6 examples/themes in the following verses to illustrate the righteousness that the law calls for.

GOD’S JUSTICE IS CONCERNED WITH OUR HEARTS, FIRST AND FOREMOSTLY (V.21-30)

In this first example or theme of anger, Jesus extends justice not only to acts « Thou shalt not commit murder » but also to thoughts and words. Getting angry unfairly. There is a way to get angry that doesn’t mean harm to anyone, this type of anger is hostile to sin. But Jesus speaks here of that anger which is more familiar to us and which is proud, hateful, vengeful. This generally leads us to use bad words, insults: Raca = imbecile, moron. “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Anger and insults express the odious desire to get rid of someone who disturbs us. Our thoughts, looks and words indicate what we dare not say out loud: « if only this person could be dead. » This is a violation of the 6th Commandment. Obviously a human court cannot convict us for our hateful thoughts, but God’s court can.

The implications of this is given by Jesus in v.23 « If so … » no act of godliness is possible if you harbor such feelings. First go and be reconciled with your brother. Here we realize that we are less comfortable with the commandment « you shall not kill » when we understand what God means by it.

The second example concerns lust (v.27-30).

Here again the view of adultery among the Pharisees was restricted to the actual sexual act. As long as you have not had sex with someone other than your wife, you have not committed adultery (7th Commandment). But Jesus extends adultery to the imagination and to the gaze of lust. Just as our words can kill, our looks and our hearts can experience adultery. All of a sudden we feel more concerned and not only married men but everyone, man or woman, married or single. Jesus here not only condemns any immoral sexual practice but shows that the origin of the act lies in the sinful heart. What I watch influences my heart, but it is because my heart is corrupted that I will commit adultery. King David committed adultery not because he saw his neighbor’s beautiful wife bathing. But because his heart was corrupt.

Eternal damnation is a reality in the eyes of Jesus, so he shows that everything should be done to escape hell (Gehenna) v.29 and 30. « If your eye … if your hand … is an occasion for a fall, cut them off ». If you were blind would you be done with lust? No, the sultry voice, or the intoxicating scent of a woman would excite your lust … it is in the heart that you root out evil. However, what we see, what we think stimulates what is in our hearts. In my heart there is sin that, once stimulated, will take action. This is why I should watch over what I put in front of my eyes and what feeds my thoughts. You may need to take some drastic measures, but before you gauge out your eyes, put some controls on your computer, set up your computer in the middle of the living room. But remember, the problem is your own heart.

God is interested not only in our actions but above all our hearts because our words and our actions come from the heart. And our heart is guilty.

GOD’S JUSTICE IS CONCERNED WITH MORE THAN JUST THE FORM (V.31-37)

The third theme relates to divorce (v.31-32).

Here, not all of God’s teaching on marriage is given. And I don’t want to add to the distress of those who are suffering from a difficult marriage or who have experienced a divorce.

The Pharisees emphasized a clause ordered by Moses regarding divorce. They insisted on the form, on the certificate of repudiation as if it were a command. « When you get divorced you will give your wife a certificate. » This divorce letter was to protect the woman from abuse of the style: « you annoy me, go home to your mother » and then bring her back and so on. It was a way of saying if you get divorced, think carefully, you won’t be able to take her back and she will then be released from you and can remarry another.

The spirit of the law was to preserve marriage, not to facilitate divorce, to encourage fidelity not to provoke adultery. This is the meaning of v.32. If you break up with your wife without cause you push her to adultery, you push her to find another husband, when you should have stayed together. Why did Moses require a letter of divorce? (cf. Mt 19.3) It is a concession because of the hardness of our hearts. He unfortunately knows that because of our sinful hearts some marriages will fail. He wants to get us out of an impasse in which there is no peace.

Don’t we all work this way? We are going to do things that God would not want us to do, but we will do it in a respectable way. And we give ourselves a clear conscience by the method, the form. We are trying to save face, preserve appearances.

Instead of helping us succeed in our divorce, the law serves to reveal to us that we have failed in our marriage. God is primarily interested in who we are, deeply. And our hearts are corrupt. We try to camouflage our corruption with an acceptable form.

The fourth theme concerns oaths (v.33-37).

The religious of the time said that if you swear by something sacred (the name of God) then you really have to keep your word, but otherwise you do not have to. But the reality is that God is truth, and the law requires us to speak the truth and keep our promises. Swearing has become a necessity for liars. We take an oath solemnly because in reality we are unreliable. Using an oath is a pitiful admission that one is generally dishonest. If we were reliable our yes would be a yes and our no a no.

Once again, God is concerned with our hearts and our hearts are deceitful, full of lies.

GOD’S JUSTICE IS CONCERNED WITH PERFECT LOVE (v.38-48)

The challenge facing us here in the last 2 examples is to love the « wicked » (v.39) and our « enemies » (v.44). This is without doubt the most extraordinary teaching of Jesus. In no other context do we have a greater need for the power of the Holy Spirit.

The law of retaliation found in the Old Testament (« an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ») was a way of seeking justice, rather than revenge. Of course, we tend to take revenge by inflicting more punishment than the offense done to us. Most of the time, the required sentence was not imposed physically, but translated to payment of damages. It is up to the courts to assess the damage and impose a proportionate sanction. If I have a tooth broken, breaking a tooth to my abuser is not going to help me chew better. On the other hand, an allowance will allow me to buy myself a blender. The Pharisees and men in general (apart from the Mafia) are for this mode of justice.

But Jesus, addressing the crowd and his disciples as individuals, asks them not to resist the wicked, not to return evil for evil, but good for bad. Here it is important to distinguish between the « person » and the « function, » between the individual and the institution. A uniformed policeman is required to oppose the villain because that is what his job requires. On the other hand, this same man, when he has taken off his uniform, is not going to chase someone down because he has given him the finger or an arm salute or something. It is no longer his function, because he is no longer on duty. He may be offended, but his function as a police officer does not require a reaction. Jesus wants his disciples to act in mercy.

Clearly, it is not easy. If my child challenges my role as a father, I must resist because it is my role to educate, to correct my child for his good. But if an unfair criticism is levelled against me, I don’t respond, I don’t resist. On the contrary, I still show love. This will disarm my opponent, which will prevent an escalation of verbal or physical violence. And love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend. Jesus conquered our hearts by loving us, by being good to us even when we had offended him.

Jesus recognizes that we have a hard time turning the other cheek. 

The 6th and last theme: Jesus ascends to the highest level.

The religious taught « You will love your neighbor and you will hate your enemy ». They were weakening the law by omitting the phrase « …as yourself » (which sets the bar very high) and by limiting the meaning of « neighbor » to their Jewish brother. So they could still hate someone who wasn’t their brother, or someone they saw as a threat. But Jesus asks us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who persecute us, because this is how God has treated us in order to be like God, like our Father who pours out his blessings on the just and the unjust alike, who makes the sun rise for the good and for the wicked alike, and sends rain on the ground of the just and the unjust, alike.

If you love those who love you and only greet your brothers, what makes it extraordinary? Everyone knows how to do that. Alfred Plummer sums up this truth well. “To return evil for evil is diabolical; to render good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine. » And Augustine adds: « Many know how to present the other cheek, but do not know how to love the one who hits them. »

God is interested in our love, but our love is pitiful.

Conclusion

Jesus’ teaching both amazes us because we see the greatness and beauty of his kingdom, and it overwhelms us or makes us despair because we see that we are unable to live at this level of righteousness. God demands not only inner justice but also perfect justice. To have access to the kingdom of God, we must be holy like the King himself. « Therefore be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect » v.48

God demands the impossible. He demands perfection and everything in us is imperfection.

This is precisely the point of the Lord in all of these illustrations and throughout the sermon: He wants to lead His audience to experience an overwhelming sense of spiritual bankruptcy, to realize their spiritual poverty, and their need for a Savior.

We see that Jesus alone lived this way. His actions and his words came from a pure heart, even in his anger he remained loving, he coveted nothing other than the will of the Father, he loved perfectly, faithfully, he always kept his promises, « When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23), he prayed for his executioners: “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).

The good news is that he who demands perfection, gives perfection. Jesus did not just achieve the minimum level of righteousness, but the maximum level of righteousness: perfection. And this perfection is given to us simply through faith in Christ. God does not accept man through works of the law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ.

If you despair of meeting the minimum level of God’s righteousness, then believe in Jesus who has fulfilled the maximum requirement for you. Then make all your efforts to progress in this righteousness.