Not wanting to change is what got the religious leaders in so much trouble. We can be the same way.
1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.
As we continue to look at Jesus’ correction of the teaching of the day, we begin to see why the religious leaders hated Him so. He upset their applecart. Not only that, He called into question their motives behind their rules. Take oaths, for instance:
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn [Numbers 30:2].’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. Matthew 5:33-37
The passage in Numbers was a clarification that a person should keep his word. Jesus interpreted oath-taking as unnecessary for a person to keep his word. Jesus was taking away the teaching of the religious leaders by specifically listing the things by which NOT to swear: heaven, earth, or Jerusalem. But, it was worse than that. Matthew records Jesus’ scathing rebuke of the teachers of the law in 23:16-22,
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
Jesus summed up the practice of oath-taking with this warning, “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Did the religious leaders stop taking oaths? Not at all. They would rather kill Jesus than do as He said.
Next on the list was the binding of an old law and the loosing of a new one. It includes a rebuke of the religious leaders’ passive resistance against Rome. Jesus had something to say about that, too.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [Exodus 21:23-25].’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Without actually saying it, Jesus was telling them to love one another as He loved them, a command that He gave His disciples His last night with them ([John 13:34-35]. The closest He got to telling the people this command is in 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” As for the one-mile rule, by Roman law a person was duty-bound to carry a soldier’s pack one mile. I have heard it said that the cities had markers at every mile so that they would know when they had carried the pack exactly one mile. Jesus wanted them to change their attitude toward their adversaries. He was trying to get them to show God’s love instead of national pride. Sounds like a good lesson for today, doesn’t it?
Verses 43-48 are a continuation of this theme. If a person would discipline himself with this knowledge, he would not have to be corrected (see the Proverbs verse for today). Also, he would “be perfect even as his heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Abba, may You make us just like Jesus, who was just like You. We want to be perfect: whole, complete, mature, lacking no good thing in us. Like I said, we want to be just like Jesus! We don’t want to be stupid, Lord. Help us to listen, trust and obey. Amen.