Seventh Sunday After Epiphany (Feb 19th)

Pastor's Summary of Matthew 5:38-48

The Pharisees and the scribes kept Mosaic law diligently, and taught it. Jesus has said this is not enough; one must exceed the requirements of the Law (v. 20). He fleshes out its meaning fully (v. 17). For example (vv. 21-22), God expects us to refrain not only from the act (e.g. murder) but from even thinking thoughts that may lead to it (e.g. nursing anger).

In v. 38, Jesus reminds his audience of two laws. They did limit retaliation to one for one. By Jesus' time the authorities often commuted the penalty to a fine. Jesus goes further: avoid physcial violence (v. 39). To strike "the right cheek" with the back of the hand was particularly dishonoring; shame your opponent into a change of heart. Avoid litigation (v. 40); overcome greed with generosity to the wrong-doers. The "coat" was the inner garment, a short-sleeved knee-length tunic held in at the waist by a girdle; the "cloak" was the outer garment. Now v. 41: a soldier could force a civilian to carry his pack. The Greek words traslated "forces" and "mile" reflect the imperial messenger service, a courier service using relays of horses. To "go...the second mile" would be to avoid another civilian being compelled. Be generous, even under duress.

"Love your neighbor" (v. 43) is in Leviticus 19:18. People generally thought that outsiders were "enemies" and should be hated. V. 44 is wise advice for overcoming persecution. To be "children of" (v. 45) God is to pattern one's attitudes after God's; he provides for all, both good and evil people. In v. 46, Jesus thinks of both earthly and heavenly "reward". "Tax collectors" worked under contract with the Romans. to meet their stipulated target, they often extorted money; they collaborated with the occupiers. Being morally suspect, their reward was seen as being only earthly. A greeting (v. 47) in the Near East, then and now, is a prayer for blessing on the one greeted. "The Gentiles" were at the time mostly pagan. What distinguishes your love from that of unbelievers? "Be perfect" (v. 48), conform to the divine ideal, as God does: love everyone!