Sunday, April 2nd, 2023
There are 7 days til Easter!
Layman's Bible Commentary Layman's Bible Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
"Commentary on Matthew 5". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ lbc/ matthew-5.html.
"Commentary on Matthew 5". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
- Henry's Complete
- Clarke Commentary
- Bridgeway Bible Commentary
- Coffman's Commentaries
- Barnes' Notes
- Bullinger's Companion Notes
- Calvin's Commentary
- Bell's Commentary
- College Press
- Smith's Commentary
- Dummelow on the Bible
- Constable's Expository Notes
- Darby's Synopsis
- Ellicott's Commentary
- Expositor's Dictionary
- Hole's Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Gaebelein's Annotated
- Gann on the Bible
- Morgan's Exposition
- Gill's Exposition
- Everett's Study Notes
- Haydock's Catholic Commentary
- Commentary Critical
- Commentary Critical Unabridged
- Gray's Concise Commentary
- Parker's The People's Bible
- Sutcliffe's Commentary
- Trapp's Commentary
- Kretzmann's Commentary
- Lange's Commentary
- Grant's Commentary
- Wells of Living Water
- Henry's Complete
- Henry's Concise
- Poole's Annotations
- Pett's Commentary
- Preacher's Homiletical
- Poor Man's Commentary
- Benson's Commentary
- Sermon Bible Commentary
- Horae Homileticae
- The Biblical Illustrator
- Coke's Commentary
- The Expositor's Bible Commentary
- The Pulpit Commentaries
- Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
- Wesley's Notes
- Whedon's Commentary
- Henry's Complete
- AEK Concordant NT Commentary
- Abbott's NT
- Orchard's Catholic Commentary
- Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary
- Contending for the Faith
- Daily Study Bible
- Expositor's Greek Testament
- Godbey's NT Commentary
- Alford's Greek Testament Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Bible Study NT
- Bengel's Gnomon
- People's NT
- Robertson's Word Pictures
- Schaff's NT Commentary
- Vincent's Studies
- Burkitt's Expository Notes
- Daily Study Bible
- Brown's Commentary
- Golden Chain Commentary
- McGarvey'S Commentaries
- Fourfold Gospel
- Gospels Compared
- Box on Selected Books
- Lapide's Commentary
- International Critical
- Ironside's Notes
- Broadus on Matthew
- Layman's Bible Commentary
- Restoration Commentary
- Watson's Expositions
- Utley Commentary
- Kelly Commentary
- Zerr's N.T. Commentary
The Charter of the New Age (5:1-7:29)
These chapters are customarily called "The Sermon on the Mount." They rather contain a series of discourses, or fragments of discourses, and some detached words which the evangelist has grouped here. Jesus, the new Moses, promulgates the new law for the children of the Kingdom. He goes up on "the mountain," doubtless one of the hills surrounding the Lake of Tiberias. This indication, even as the structure of chapter 5, which, at several points reflects the Decalogue, is an undeniable reminder of the Law of Sinai. The introductory words have a peculiar solemnity. Jesus goes up the mountain, seats himself, opens his mouth, and teaches. His disciples surround him, but this does not exclude the presence of the crowds.
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12; see Luke 6:20-26)
A comparison of the parallel texts shows us that in Luke these words are clothed in direct form. They are briefer, more incisive, and the four beatitudes of Luke have their counterpart in the fourfold "woe to you," omitted by Matthew. We are, then, in the presence of two different versions, and it is likely that Luke’s is the more primitive. Matthew does not change the meaning but makes it more explicit.
"Blessed [or happy] are the poor in spirit." The term "poor" has a double meaning in the biblical tradition. It means both poverty and humility. The poor in Israel are those who, both literally and figuratively, have nothing and hope only in God. "Poor in spirit" means those who have the spirit of poverty and of humility (see Isaiah 57:15).
The saying, ". . . theirs is the kingdom of heaven," is a simple affirmation that the children of the Kingdom are the "poor" who come to God with empty hands. For them the coining of the Messianic Era is truly "good news," the long-awaited deliverance.
The second Beatitude must be understood in a similar sense (vs. 4). It is a reminder of the Messianic promise: "The LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted ... to comfort all who mourn" (Isaiah 61:1-2). An era of joy is opened in this world for all the oppressed and the suffering, because Jesus is here.
The third Beatitude (vs. 5) also expresses a reversal of things. In the world which we know, power belongs to the strong, to the violent It is they who "succeed." It is they who "possess the earth." But in the Kingdom, the earth will belong to the humble, to the peaceful, to the "children," to those who put their confidence in God, to those who let themselves be despoiled without bitterness and without anger (see Psalms 37:5-11).
The Messianic Era will be a time when righteousness shall reign on a renewed earth (vs. 6). This was the hope and the constant expectation of the prophets. It was at the same time a matter of the righteousness of God, of his fidelity and his truth illuminating and saving men, and of righteousness in human relations. It is this "righteousness" which characterizes the MessianicKing (Isaiah 11:5; see Isaiah 42:1-4; Psalms 72:1-15). Blessed, said Jesus, are those who hunger and thirst for this righteousness, for it will be revealed at the Last Day.
The first four Beatitudes describe men who wait for the Kingdom of God with the intense nostalgia of those for whom God is their only hope and stay. And Jesus, in his sovereign authority, assigns the Kingdom to them. He speaks in his capacity as King, who has come to inaugurate the Messianic Age. He is the messenger of joy and comfort, the foretold King of righteousness. But he is also the one who has chosen the way of poverty for himself, who will submit to the injustice of men. He is the master who is "gentle and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29; see Matthew 21:5). Thus the Church, in reciting the Beatitudes, meditates on the Lord who has both proclaimed and lived them. But at the time when he pronounced them, the meaning of his words was still veiled, as was his Messiahship.
The four Beatitudes that follow have a character somewhat different from the earlier ones. They deal not so much with a want which is to be filled as with an attitude. Here we are speaking deliberately of an attitude, not of a virtue.
The first of these (vs. 7) relates to the judgment of God. Before the tribunal of the Most High and the Most Holy, man can hope only for his pity and his pardon. But how can one who does not pardon, who does not exercise mercy toward his neighbor, anticipate the pardon of God? Jesus later repeats this warning several times (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:21-35; see also James 2:13). It is God’s nature to be merciful. Consequently, he who exercises mercy is blessed; he thereby shows himself to be a son of his Father in heaven (Luke 6:35-36). He bears the stamp of his Father.
Purity of heart (vs. 8) is essentially "integrity" or "honesty" of heart, as is set forth in the Psalms (Psalms 24:3-4; Psalms 51:10), sincerity of intentions and attitudes, truth, transparency of being all of which translate themselves into words (Matthew 5:37) and acts (Acts 7:21-23). Only the one who is "true" in this profound sense can face the judgment. He comes to the light (John 3:20-21), and this light will one day be revealed to him in all its fullness (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2).
Verse 9 speaks of "the peacemakers." The word "peace" in the Old Testament expresses health, well-being, harmony, the return to unity of that which has been divided and torn asunder. The longing for peace is so profoundly anchored in the heart of humanity that it has always looked forward to a world where peace would reign among men. In the Bible this hope is often associated with the coming of the Messiah. He is the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). A humanity reconciled with God will know peace (Isaiah 57:18-19; Isaiah 60:17). In the New Testament, this reconciliation is the work of Jesus Christ He is "our peace" (Ephesians 2:13-14).
The term "son of God" is applied in the Old Testament to Israel (see Hosea 11:1). Jesus used it on several occasions as applying to the believing individual (see Matthew 5:45-48). God, at the Last Judgment, will recognize as his "sons" those who belong to him (Revelation 21:7; see Romans 8:13-14; Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23).
God is a God of peace. Those who, here below, are the instruments of peace among men, and between God and men, bear the stamp of their Father.
The next Beatitude (vs. 10) deals once more with demeanor or attitude. The righteousness of God is to be seen in his faithfulness to the Covenant which he has made with his people. The "righteousness" of the believer is to be seen in his fidelity to God, in his obedience unto death, in his willingness to do battle with unrighteousness in all of its forms. By such fidelity he exposes himself to the misunderstanding and the persecution of men. The Old Testament had already testified to the fact that the destiny of the "righteous" is to suffer, and the figure of the Servant proclaims the One who will redeem the world by his sufferings (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12).
The first eight Beatitudes form a unity: they must be understood as a Messianic proclamation. Only the One whom God installs as Judge and King of the world can open the Kingdom. And he opens it to the humble, to the "nobodies"; to those who hope only in God; to those who hunger and thirst for "righteousness" and are ready to suffer for it; to those who, having hoped only in the mercy of God, have their hearts open to the pain of others; to the workers of righteousness and peace.
He who spoke in this fashion is himself the incarnation of this righteousness and this love. The teaching of Jesus Christ is inseparable from his Person. It is on his Person that the authority of his word rests. It is because he is present, because in him all the promises of God have been fulfilled, that the Beatitudes are a message of joy. Apart from him, from the righteousness and peace of which he is the guarantor, they could be only our condemnation.
This is likewise true of the ninth Beatitude (vss. 11-12), which is actually a development of the eighth. This development perhaps reflects the experience of the first Christian generation. Persecution is seen as a normal consequence of the vocation of discipleship to Jesus. Blessed is the one who is persecuted because of his fidelity to his Lord accused unjustly for love of him (the word "falsely" does not exist in all manuscripts, and is perhaps a later addition) . He undergoes the lot of the prophets. The Apostolic Church in its preaching frequently came back to this theme of the necessity for suffering on the part of those who do battle for the cause of Christ To suffer for him, or because of him, is a privilege (Philippians 1:29; Philippians 2:17-18; 1 Peter 1:3-9; 1 Peter 2:20-24; 1 Peter 4:12-14). Jesus himself, on several occasions, prepared his disciples for these struggles (see, for example, the parallel account of this passage in Luke 6:22-23; see also Matthew 10:16-25).
The Beatitudes proclaim a magnificent reversal of our human manner of measuring people and things. It is those whom the world judges "wretched" whom Jesus proclaims blessed. It is those whom the world calls "happy" the rich, the powerful, those who "succeed," those who know how to gain the esteem of all of whom Jesus pronounces the final destitution (Luke 6:24-26). One may be "rich" in the eyes of the world, yet poor and empty before God; or "poor" in the eyes of the world, yet rich toward God. The Gospel by Luke expresses this paradox in all its force, while Matthew spiritualizes it (poor "in spirit"), omitting the contrast with the rich. But the profound judgment uttered by Jesus is the same in both Gospels: it is to those who know themselves poor before God, to those who love him with the grateful love of the poor, that he opens the Kingdom.
Salt of the Earth, Light of the World (5:13-16)
The words which Matthew cites here are found partly in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34-35 (the salt which loses its savor), and partly in Luke 8:16 (the lamp which is not hidden). The two great expressions, "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world," however, along with the picture of the city set on a hill, belong to Matthew’s own treasure. It is not by chance that these words are placed immediately after the Beatitudes. Is it not to the children of the Kingdom, to those blessed by the Father, that these words are addressed? Who are "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" but they? Here, too, a paradox shines forth: it is these humble believers, these Galilean fishermen who are ignorant of the world and of whom the world is ignorant, these "little ones" who gather around Jesus, on whom the destiny of the world rests! Regal saying! It is not a mere promise, but an affirmation "You are." From the very moment when the Lord chooses you and calls you, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
What is salt? It is at the same time that which gives taste to food and that which prevents its decay. The Law demanded that salt be put on all offerings presented to God, for salt was a sign of "the covenant" (Leviticus 2:13). The faith of believers, bearers of the Covenant of God, witnesses to his mercy is it this salt which makes the world acceptable to God? Or is it this which preserved the world from total corruption and saves it from condemnation Without doubt it is both. All three Gospels mention the possibility that the salt may lose its "taste" or "saltness." A rabbi of the first century made ironic allusion to this saying, insisting that it is the nature of salt not to lose its taste! The hypothesis, he insisted, is absurd. But Jesus was often deliberately paradoxical Israel had been, and the disciples of Jesus are, by then calling insofar as they are witnesses of the truth of God, "the salt of this earth." But if they allow themselves to lose the treasure confided to them, if the salt becomes insipid, it is "no longer good for any thing except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men." Is not this insipidity of the message of the Church, and of those who are its bearers, a danger in every age? When the Church dilutes its message, it ends by resembling the world around it; it no longer has any real taste; and its message is "trodden under foot" by passers-by.
Judaism, in the time of Jesus, spoke readily of God as the light of the world, but also applied this term to the Law and to the people of Israel. In so doing, it was in line with the Old Testament, where God is seen as the source of all light and of all life (Genesis 1:3-5; Psalms 36:9; Psalms 104:1-2). His word is light (Psalms 119:105). The Servant of God is called "a light to the nations" (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6), and the Messianic dawn arises as a light on the whole world. Jerusalem is enlightened by it, and in turn it enlightens the nations (Isaiah 60:1-3; Isaiah 60:19-20; see Isaiah 8:22 to Isaiah 9:2). This light of God which enlightens the world is God’s truth, his righteousness, his fidelity, his love (see Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalms 36:5-10).
These Messianic promises are brought to mind in Matthew 4:15-16. In the Person of Jesus, the promised light has arisen on the world. He is the light of the world God made visible to men (see John 1:1-13; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:46; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus says to his disciples: "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). The disciples are now, in their turn, the bearers and witnesses of the light which emanates from him (see Philippians 2:15; Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 5:14). They cannot keep themselves within his orbit of light without reflecting and radiating it. This light can no more be hidden than can a city set on a hill. The traveller sees it from afar. Likewise, the lamp is lighted in order to give light "to all in the house." Who would dream of putting it "under a bushel"? Its reason for being is to give light to those who surround it.
To be light is to do the work of light, to manifest the light by words and acts. No one can be deceived as to the origin of such works. Those who see them give glory to the Father who is in heaven. Purely human works can elicit the praise of men. The works of light direct attention toward the One who is the source of them.
A church which shuts herself in from the needs of the world puts the light of Christ under a bushel. To radiate the light of God his truth, his love is the Church’s reason for existence. The function of light is to set people and things in their true proportion, to reveal their real nature; it is to spread life, joy, beauty, to warm the world in the fire of the love of God.
Of the Law and of Righteousness (5:17-20)
This passage is both very important and very difficult important because it indicates the position of Jesus vis-a-vis the revelation of the Old Testament; difficult, because it seems to stick to the letter of the Law and to contradict everything which is told us elsewhere of the attitude of Jesus with regard to the austerity of the Pharisees and of his freedom with respect to men and institutions. It is imperative to study these words one by one.
It is to be noted first of all that in the Hebrew Bible "the law" (Torah) and "the prophets" (Matthew 5:17) are the two most important parts of Scripture, carrying the greatest authority in matters of faith and practice, the more important of the two being the Torah (the Pentateuch). The Law should be understood as the revelation of the will of God, that is to say, it signifies much more than is meant by the word "law" in the language of today.
The coming of Jesus and the new and striking character of his preaching seem to have raised the hope that since the New Age had sounded, this was the end of the Law and its demands. The Apostle Paul ran afoul of similar misunderstanding. Men concluded from his preaching of Christian liberty that "all things are lawful" (1 Corinthians 10:23-24; see Galatians 5:13-15). In the history of the Christian Church, there has been an oscillation between a legalistic austerity and a so-called liberty which borders on license.
This passage maintains firmly the demands of the Law. The revelation of God is one. Jesus has not come to do away with the words God has spoken in the past, but to "fulfil" them. To fulfil something is to lead it to its end, to realize it completely.
It was only after his death and resurrection that Jesus’ disciples understood in what profound sense he "fulfilled" the Law and the Prophets, and thus fulfilled "all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). He made himself obedient unto death. To do the will of God was his "food" (John 4:34; see Hebrews 10:5-9). He fulfilled the Law by living it He fulfilled it also by submitting in his own person to the condemnation which the Law brought against a humanity which had transgressed it At this point in the ministry of Jesus, the full meaning of this passage is still hidden. But in order to understand the words which follow it, it is necessary to read them in the light of their final fulfilment Verse 18 is found in a little different form in Luke 16:17 "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void." Jesus categorically refused to weaken in the slightest the strictness of the divine demand. If his discussions with the Pharisees are studied carefully, it is plain that he reproached them for not doing themselves what they enjoined upon others (Matthew 23:3), adding to the Law of God the traditions of men and trampling underfoot the greatest commandment of all, that of love (Mark 7:6-13; Mark 3:1-6).
The Law of God as Moses and the prophets have revealed it will abide as long as the present world endures, that is to say, until it is perfectly fulfilled in the Kingdom where all will be righteousness, love, and truth. But in the Person of Jesus this Kingdom had already broken into the world. He is the harbinger of the New Age. For this reason, his word transcends and surpassesthat of "the elders." Heaven and earth will pass away, but his word will not pass away (Matthew 24:35).
Obedience to all the commandments of God is once more underscored in verse 19. Nothing is little or negligible when it is a question of the will of God. He who by subtle arguments tries to change the Law, or to dimmish its importance, is guilty. One who teaches such casuistry is still more guilty. Jesus seems to say that there are degrees in the Kingdom. Those who have taken the will of God seriously in the smallest things will be "great." Faith does not dispense with obedience; it produces it as the tree bears fruit (see James 2:14-24). And the Apostle Paul says nothing different (Galatians 5:13-26).
There is, nevertheless, a difficulty in this passage which it is necessary to recognize. Did Jesus intend to retain, at least for the Israelites, all the demands of the Mosaic Law? Did he intend these words to be taken literally? It would appear that he so intended. But it is not to be forgotten how Jesus himself summarized the Law (Matthew 22:34-40). Nor is it to be forgotten that through the Holy Spirit the believer, through faith in the Risen Christ, has indeed passed from the world regulated by law into the world of grace and of love. In emphasizing the strictness of the Law, Jesus shuts us in tinder the condemnation from which he alone is able to deliver us. Matthew 5 enables us to understand better Paul’s shout of deliverance (Romans 7:24 to Romans 8:4).
The Pharisees and the scribes were known as scrupulous observers of the Law. They were specialists, if one may so say, in its study and its teaching. Jesus placed on them a severe judgment; if the ’’righteousness" of the disciples did not surpass theirs, they would not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. It might, therefore, be asked: Who then can enter?
This passage introduces the discourse recorded in Matthew 5:21-48, which shows what the higher righteousness is, the law of the Kingdom which Jesus alone can proclaim, because his life is the incarnation of it
The New Righteousness (5:21-48)
We are here confronted with six antitheses which contrast the "law of the elders" with the new righteousness which Jesus proclaims."You have heard . . . But I say to you," We note first of all the structure of this discourse, which gives it a striking unity. Nevertheless, this unity is broken by some words which refer to the same subject, and which the evangelist has likely for this reason inserted here, but which are found in other contexts in the other Gospels, thus permitting the supposition that they were not a part of the original discourse (compare 5:25-26 with Luke 12:58-59; Luke 5:29-30 with Mark 9:43-47 and Matthew 18:8-9; Matthew 5:32 with Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11-12; Matthew 19:9).
Jesus completes and corrects the Law of Moses; in fact, three of the examples given are from the Decalogue (Exodus 20:13-14; Exodus 20:16). Jesus presents himself, then, as the new Moses, who alone can speak with such sovereign authority. It is clear that what he says in no way abrogates the ancient Law. But Jesus goes behind the act to the intention which prompts it, to the secret purposes of the heart. He speaks as the one who is to change hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (see Ezekiel 11:19-20), as the one who writes God’s Law on men’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
Anger equals murder (Matthew 5:21-26). The Old Testament condemns murder; it falls under the stroke of penal law. But for Jesus, anger is already murder, for it carries murder in germ. Whoever sins by angry thoughts deserves to be brought before the local magistrate; whoever goes so far as to insult another (see margin: "Raca" means imbecile, empty head!) deserves to appear before the supreme tribunal (the Sanhedrin); and whoever calls another "fool" or "insane" (the Old Testament calls him who denies God a "fool," Psalms 14:1) deserves the fire of judgment, because he thus calls down on his brother a divine curse. This word of Jesus seems hard. It is necessary to catch the irony in it what court would be sufficient for such a task? but also to grasp its terrible truth. "Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15).
Verses 23-24 introduce us to a feature of Jewish piety: all faithful Jews went up to Jerusalem to present their offerings. Vain gesture, Jesus tells us, if one has offended his brother, for the brother stands between him and God. This is a warning to "religious" people of all times. A right relation to one’s brother is one of the conditions which must be fulfilled if God is to accept our worship and our offerings. Verses 25-26 seem at first reading to be a pure counsel of human wisdom: it is dangerous to set the judicial machinery in motion; it ends in ruin! This verse, however, must be understood as a parable. The believer is a man on the way to the courtroom of God; let him be reconciled to his brother while there is still time, in order that his brother may not be his accuser at the Last Judgment.
Lust equals adultery (Matthew 5:27-32). It is the lustful look, Jesus tells us, which is already an act of adultery. It is committed in the "heart," but it stains the heart as much as the act itself. It is better to lose an eye or a limb than that the whole body should be burned. Lust is one of the temptations which must be overcome by ruthless measures. Salvation demands a radical treatment
To this word Matthew adds another on divorce which is found elsewhere in another context (Matthew 19:3-9; see Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18). Jewish law permitted a husband to repudiate his wife on condition that he give her "a bill of divorce" (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). This law permitted a new marriage. Jesus listed himself as out of accord with this tolerance which, he said, makes an adulterer of the woman as well as of her second husband.
Only unfaithfulness on the part of the wife can be a proper motive for divorce, for in this case a rupture of the marriage has already taken place (vs. 32) . The Gospel by Mark omits this exception and simply sets forth the absoluteness of the divine demand: God has created the unity of the couple and nothing can break it, except "hardness of heart" (Mark 10:2-9). The Mosaic Law makes allowance for this hardness. But the nature of the children of the Kingdom is precisely a changed heart. Here, as in the entire Sermon on the Mount, we are confronted with the absoluteness of the love of God. Marriage is to be understood in the light of the divine purpose, not of human contingencies. For one who takes God seriously, divorce is not a question of "extenuating circumstances" but of a holy will, before which he is obliged to acknowledge himself a transgressor.
Let your Yes be Yes (Matthew 5:33-37). The Old Testament permits the taking of an oath and has a dreadful severity against false testimony, which in fact consists in taking the name of God in vain (Exodus 20:7; Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:11-12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 19:16-20).It is a question whether Jesus condemned all oaths, or whether he insisted that every word spoken should have the seriousness of an oath, that is, be spoken before a holy God who reads the heart
In the Judaism of Jesus’ time, it was an established custom to avoid pronouncing the name of God, and to swear instead "by heaven" or "by the earth," or "by Jerusalem," or by one’s "head." Jesus rejected these vain subterfuges (see Matthew 23:16-22). Is not God the Master of heaven and of earth, and of the lives of each one of us? (Matthew 5:36; see Luke 12:7).
A repeated "Yes, Yes" or "No, No" had the value of an oath for the Jews; that is to say, it marked the seriousness of a reply. Jesus himself sometimes prefaced a particularly important declaration with an "Amen," or even with a double "Amen" which is translated "Truly, truly." The "Amen" was like a signature affixed to a declaration (see Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Nehemiah 5:13; Matthew 5:18; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 8:10; John 3:3-11; John 5:19; John 5:24-25).
The oath has meaning only in a world where falsehood reigns; that is its reason for existence in judicial matters. The children of the Kingdom, however, know that God hears all their words and that they will have to give account for them to him. They, therefore, do not know how to say both Yes and No at the same time (see 2 Corinthians 1:17-20) . Each "Yes" binds them entirely. Anything added to it comes from the Devil, who is "the father of lies" (see John 8:44).
Resist not evil (Matthew 5:38-42; see Luke 6:29-30). The law of retaliation (Leviticus 24:17-20) may seem to us severe. As a matter of fact, however, in its time it was a limitation on the arbitrariness of individual or collective vengeance (see Genesis 4:15-24). The principle that punishment should be in proportion to the crime is the very foundation of all law. In the time of Jesus, the Mosaic Law was no longer applied in its original preciseness. Jesus was, therefore, not protesting against any current abuse, but was rather dealing with a law regarded as legitimate, calling it into question in the name of a higher justice the justice which governs the sons of the Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:45-48; see Luke 6:35-36).
If God dealt with us according to strict justice, what would become of us? Jesus was certainly not intending to abolish the Law, the necessity of which he elsewhere acknowledged (Matthew 5:25; John 19:11; see Romans 13:1-5), but was indicating the limits of Law in the light of the fact that God’s love has other norms. It was a question here of not responding to violence with violence; of allowing oneself to be insulted (vs. 39) and, if need be, robbed (vs. 40); to go beyond what is forced upon one (vs. 41). This last was likely an allusion to forced labor, such as Roman legionnaires could require of passers-by. To grasp the thought of Jesus, it is necessary to look at him, who did "not resist" but consented to every shame (see Isaiah 50:5-6; Isaiah 53:7-8; Matthew 26:52-53; 1 Peter 2:19-24). It is to follow on this way the way of the Cross that he invites his own.
Love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). This passage presents a difficulty. The Old Testament never commanded hatred for enemies. This word, then, must relate rather to an attitude current in Jesus’ day, which the Jews have not been the only ones to practice! For them, the love of neighbor limited itself to those of then: own people, or those who shared their faith. The frequent expressions of hatred found in the Old Testament are addressed to the enemies of God whom the faithful identified (perhaps a little too quickly!) with their own enemies (see Psalms 139:19-22; Psalms 140:9-11). To hatred Jesus opposes love and prayer for persecutors, for by these ways men become sons of their Father who is in heaven. This phrase gives us the key to the whole passage, indeed to the entire discourse: the real question is whether our deportment carries the mark of our divine sonship, or whether it is only like that of the "tax collectors" and "Gentiles," that is, those who do not know the miracle of being loved by God.
"You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2); this the Old Covenant tells us. "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"; this Jesus tells us. And Luke is doubtless right in indicating that this "perfection" consists above all in mercy (Luke 6:36).
If in the Sermon on the Mount we have merely a system of ethics, or of a self-sufficient morality, then its demands must overwhelm us. It has often and rightly been reproached for lacking realism, for demanding the impossible. The Sermon on the Mount is "good news" only if we receive it from the mouth of the One who himself lived it and who, by his grace, desires to live it again in us, to transform us into his image, to make us authentic sons of the Father. Otherwise, it remains for us only a judgment, for it lays bare all the avowed or hidden refusals of a heart which is in rebellion against the divine law. But it is also a call and a promise, a glorious opening on the coming Kingdom of which, by faith, we are the children.