You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
- Matthew 5:21-26
Yesterday, I wrote about a book that remains unnamed. An “expert” in social sciences and specializing in religion wrote about his idea of the path forward for Christianity, totally forgetting, the Bible, prayer, faith, and even Jesus. One of the things that he mentioned briefly was a moral code. He did not want to belabor the point, but the Christians had an admirable moral code.
But, even though he ignored Jesus, I have heard many theologians and preachers state that if you only thought of Jesus as a great moral teacher, you miss the point. Jesus is eternal. Jesus is the Son of God.
But, may I get a bit controversial? I am trying my best to shed myself of the legalism that was force fed since youth. Pastors today focus on the relationship that Jesus wants with each of us and not as much on the ever-expanding concept of more and more rules.
The professor talking of a Christian moral code got me to thinking. Are the radical changes in the interpretations of the Ten Commandments found in the Sermon on the Mount an increase in laws, more stricter laws, or impossible laws? What was the teaching Jesus meant? Do they really establish an achievable moral code? Thus, was Jesus even a great moral teacher at all?
Yes, I said controversial, and I said not a moral teacher at all, just in the form of questions.
Jesus set the bar too high. Not only can we not murder someone; we cannot get angry at them, call them a fool. Come on! If you are a driver of an automobile and you go down back roads in Pennsylvania that do not have a line down the middle (too narrow to allow it), you will call someone a fool because they take their half out of the middle and you must go in the ditch. Just the day before writing this, I was taking my wife to the dialysis center. We met a Jeep going the other direction. There was plenty of time for the Jeep to move over; he had 3-4 feet of pavement to use, but to no avail. I used the extra time to spot an area that almost had what most roads call a shoulder. In other words, silt had partially filled the ditch. Thus, to prevent us hitting head on, with the other driver not moving an inch to the side at all, I went into the ditch and our mirrors missed by inches.
I did not call the guy a fool, but my wife did, over and over again. Please, forgive her. The various ailments that she is dealing with have her nerves a bit messed up and on edge.
But my usual response would be to do the same thing if it had not been for the crazy lady at the gas pumps a week or two ago, screaming that there was no room, when she had 3-4 feet of available space on the other side. Ah, 3-4 feet, the same distance with the same inability to judge driving the same model of SUV. I tried, to no avail, to explain to my wife that driver’s of that brand have no clue how narrow their car really is. They think they are driving a huge truck and that they are really dangerously close to the ditch. Looking back on it, instead of calling them a fool. I just described foolish behavior instead. So, maybe it is impossible to not call such folk fools.
I am reminded of a George Carlin comedy routine as these moral rules keep growing before our eyes. I will clean up the language a bit, but he was talking about growing up Catholic and how the priest said that getting too amorous with your girlfriend was a sin, but then thinking about it was a sin also. Planning the date where you might get roaming hands was a sin. By the time you got beyond the kissing during the date, you had already committed six sins, just thinking about it!!
While someone could read the Sermon on the Mount and come away with hundreds of “rules” as you consider thinking about sinning, planning on sinning, preparing to sin, etc. Could it be that Jesus was saying that with our sinful nature, our goose is cooked? We are incapable of doing anything the right way with the right intentions, at least without Jesus in our hearts and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But Jesus gives us an alternative command, to love one another. And as for our relationship with God? God loves us and we are to love Him and trust in God’s plan for our lives.
Could it be that Jesus was not giving us a new moral code, detailed with so many rules that even the Pharisees would throw up their hands in despair? Could it be that Jesus was saying that God wants a relationship with each of us? Could it be that our only hope would be that God was willing to adopt us? If our only desire is more of God in our lives, the rest takes care of itself.
So, if we take that attitude while we sift through the sins of intentions, motivations, evil plots to be naughty, and such, we either set ourselves up for failure or we turn to Jesus and give Him a big hug. We tell Him that we love Him, and we cannot live anywhere close to the bar that He has set.
Then what does Jesus say in reply? Jesus gets a screwed up look on His face and says, “I see no sin in you. The Father has washed you clean, like snow – the fresh-fallen kind. You know, the old white kind before we had pollution.”
I do not know if any of those pastors would go this far. Jesus is the Son of God. He is something more than a great moral teacher. He is our Savior, the One who paid the sin penalty in our stead. Jesus was the One who was born to die – dying a death on the cross, just to be raised from the dead. Yes, Jesus mentioned His divinity enough that Jesus was either who He said that He was, or He was a lunatic. The resurrection should have been proof positive, but there were those who still did not believe. Thus, to just claim a good moral teacher is wrong, but can we go on to say that Jesus was not a moral teacher at all? He simply stated how the Old Testament Law was meant to be interpreted.
And yet there is too much depth in what Jesus said. We can read the Gospels again and again and find deeper meaning. However, there is something freeing about a release from the Law. It is so much easier to simply love.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.