This is the third week in a five week series based on the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, called "The Heart of Christianity." We are exploring the core of the open hearted way of Jesus as Matthew gathered it together in this amazing collection. Today we read the rest of chapter 5, verses 21-48.
There is a common, fairly cynical perception out there that most politicians lack integrity. They say one thing during election time and do another the rest of the time. Often Christians are accused of something similar kind of hypocracy, holding strong convictions on Sundays that we can't live up to in the rest of life. I have a friend who once said, "Of course I'm a hypocrite, and I know it. I'm a Christian." Jesus set the ethical bar really high, and none of us attain it. That is why grace is so important.
This week, we see just how high he set that ethical bar. This is his arguement to those who say he is watering down the law. He picks a series of hot button issues: anger and conflict, lust and sex outside of marriage, divorce, punishment (eye or an eye and all that), treatment of enemies. Each time he lays out the common teaching, and then offers his approach, and each time, his approach does two things: it sets the bar higher, and it sets the bar inside the person, in your heart and mind.
So Jesus' ethics are not about meeting the letter of the law, the outer requirements, but meeting the spirit of the law, the inner requirement. That makes ethics a spiritual practise.
At first reading, these teachings feel harsh, unrealistic, super-human. There is no way I can measure up. But is it a question of "measuring up" or a question of the inner world lining up with the outer world? What do you think?