Probably no part of the Sermon on the Mount has been so misinterpreted and misapplied as 5:38–42. It has been interpreted to mean that Christians are to be sanctimonious doormats. It has been used to promote pacifism, conscientious objection to military service, lawlessness, anarchy, and a host of other positions that it does not support. But Jesus already had made plain that He did not come to eliminate even the smallest part of God’s law (5:17–19), which includes respect for and obedience to human law and authority.
Truth is so scarce that nearly everyone is suspect. Our whole society is largely built on a network of fabrication, of manufactured “truth.” The Jews of Jesus’ day revered the idea of truth in principle, but in practice it was buried under their system of tradition. In Matthew 5:33–37 Jesus exposes their convenient distortion and contradiction of the divine revelation they claimed to love and teach.
The many confused and conflicting ideas in our day about the biblical teaching on divorce are not caused by any deficiency in God’s revelation but by the fact that sin has clouded men’s minds to the straightforward simplicity of what God has said. Jesus refutes the incorrect understanding of the scribes and Pharisees and reemphasizes biblical teachings.
Lust is like anger in that it seeks power over another person. Both anger and lust put other people down, though by seemingly opposite emotions—by hatred and by desire. Jesus declares war on the secular gods of both anger and lust. Discipleship’s first social forms are patience and purity. “Blessed are the merciful” and “Blessed are the pure in heart.”
Jesus charges that no one is truly innocent of murder, because the first step in murder is anger. The anger that lies behind murder is one of the worst of sins. To one degree or another, it makes all men would-be murderers. The Lord’s teaching about murder affects our view of ourselves, our worship of God, and our relation to others.
When God is abandoned, truth is abandoned; and when truth is abandoned, the basis for morals and law is abandoned. Is there an absolute basis for truth, for law, for morals, for real right and wrong; and if so, what is it? Those questions are the essence of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:17–20.
The Beatitudes of Jesus describe the inner character of those who are members of the kingdom of God. One might be tempted to think the Beatitudes can be lived in isolation—away from the world. But Christ crowns them with two brilliant and searching metaphors (salt and light) that tell us how those who live the Beatitudes must relate to the world.
Imagine the sorrow Mary, the mother of Jesus, experienced as she had to lay her new-born babe in the manger! Consider her anguish when she learned of Herod’s purpose to destroy her infant’s life! What piercings of soul must have been hers when she saw her Son despised and rejected of men! And who can estimate what she passed through as she stood there at the cross?