27 “You have heard that it was said, don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.”
Jesus continues with a second example of greater righteousness. Mosaic law forbid adultery. Jesus, however, goes to the heart of God’s intention for human sexuality, reminding us that lust in and of itself, whether acted upon or not, causes jealousy and strife. Once again, the attitude of the heart and the habits of the mind matter. Jesus’ references to cutting off body parts are pure hyperbole, but they point to the seriousness of feeding sexual desire in destructive ways.
Where do you draw the line in thinking destructive thoughts?
Hear my prayer, Holy One...Keep me from falling into sin about …
31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Jesus’ third example of greater righteousness has caused a great deal of pain for those living with divorce in our day and time. In Jesus’ day divorce was an entirely different experience. At that time, the patriarchal culture gave men the option of easily disposing of wives, throwing them into lives of vulnerability and desperation. Jesus questions such practices and calls for greater attention to the marriage covenant and greater compassion for the vulnerable. All our promises and our relationships matter to God.
How do I honor marriage? How do I dishonor it?
Hear my prayer, Holy One...I have questions about honoring...
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
Jesus’ fourth example of greater righteousness has to do with the ancient practice of making an oath. Ancient people would promise or swear in God’s name. Hebrew law suggested that if you invoked God’s name and didn’t keep your word, the law was transgressed. Jesus suggests that greater righteousness leads us to never swear or promise in God’s name. Our yes can be a yes, and our no a no. Because we belong to God, everything we say and everything we promise already concerns God .
What/When/How do you speak of God?
Hear my prayer, Holy One...Help me to speak clearly about…
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.”
Jesus’ fifth example of greater righteousness has to do with retaliation. The Law of Moses sought to curb the human tendency to smash opponents or escalate violence. The law limited how you retaliated when someone wronged you. Jesus casts a different vision – a vision of no retaliation and no resistance to violence or injustice. Jesus points to the power of compassion and forgiveness in the face of hatred. Jesus also suggests that such actions give us a glimpse of God’s kingdom where all evil and wrongdoing will cease.
How realistic is it to turn the other cheek? Could you behave that way?
Hear my prayer, Holy One...Help me to turn the other cheek about…
43 “You have heard that it was said, you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”
Jesus’ final example of greater righteousness has to do with love. Jesus calls his followers to love completely. Not just when it’s easy and beautiful. Not just when it’s convenient. But when it costs. When it takes everything we’ve got.
Can you do such a thing? What would motivate you to love like that?
Hear my prayer, Holy One...Complete my love in…