Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Matthew 5:21-37 contains some of Jesus’ teaching which is the hardest for us to hear today. People will often note that he turns up the heat on a variety of sins. Anger suddenly becomes as bad as murder. Inappropriate desire for a woman becomes tantamount to adultery. We dare not make a promse that is dependent on anyone else, including God’s providence.
This is stern indeed. What could Jesus be doing here? In general there are two responses we can have to these brief paragraphs. We can minimize them, making little of what Jesus says. On the other hand, we can take them quite literally and be left with no excuse.
The person who minimizes Jesus’ warnings will say that he is simply emphasizing the gravity of sin. We just need to build a fence around the actual sins of murder, adultery, or misusing God’s name in an oath. That way we will be sure we don’t accidentally slip into the real sins. This approach assumes that Jesus didn’t mean what he said. It essentially accuses Jesus of being a liar. We cannot minimize what Jesus has commanded.
The person who takes these warnings quite literally will indeed be left with no excuse. Every last one of us is guilty on all counts. I believe this is exactly what Jesus intends in this passage. He wants to leave us no excuse, no wiggle room. There is no space for misunderstanding. We are guilty.
Why would Jesus want to leave us there? He would leave us there because it is exactly where we need to be if we will see that he is the one who forgives guilty sinners. No matter how good a life you or I live, we are condemned by this passage. And the great news of the Gospel is that Jesus forgives condemned sinners. He is the one who gives us his perfect righteousness. He comes to those who need a savior, not to those who have no need of him.
Thanks be to God that he has come to everyone who has ever even entertained ideas of sin. There is no excuse. There is only pardon.
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