Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
From Murder to Reparations
You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.
- Jesus begins to illustrate what he means by “your righteousness must exceed that of” the religious experts. Too many people in our world think they are “good people” if they follow the laws and don’t rob banks.
- Following Jesus isn’t even about “being good.” It’s about spiritual enlightenment, about living within the fullness of God. So Jesus begins by saying his student-followers should avoid not only murder, but contempt.
- I need to point out that Jesus himself calls the religious experts “idiots” and worse in chapter 23. So we don’t need to get too hung up on tone policing and freaking out over strong language. These verses are about banishing contempt from our lives.
- But then Jesus turns to a different illustration, and we’re no longer talking about avoiding contempt or holding a grudge. Our perspective shifts: “if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you.”
- This isn’t just about forgiving other people for being jerks, but remembering that you’ve probably been a jerk to others.
- So Jesus has shifted us even further along. It’s not enough to avoid murder. It’s not enough to avoid contempt. We need to be active peace-makers, realizing how we contribute to the slow spiritual death of the world.
- One word: Reparations.
- Jesus takes us from murder to reparations. If we don’t make this move, we doom ourselves and future generations to an eternity of payback. He ends by talking about paying “the very last penny.” This is karma, friends. We either honestly address personal and historic wrongs here, in this life, or we perpetuate the cycle of contempt, hatred, and violence.
- Jesus ties this to offering our gift of worship at the altar. The prophets say that the truest worship that brings glory to God is justice (Isaiah 58:6). This involves a spiritual move from seeing ourselves as judge, to seeing ourselves as accuser, to seeing ourselves as accused, to seeing ourselves as being in solidarity with the oppressed, to seeing ourselves as one with the universe. Most religion can’t get past step 1, and so never actually comes to the altar.
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