[we continue reading Exodus and Matthew this week at morning prayer]
Jesus is on the offensive in Matthew 5:27-37. It is part of a section in Sermon on the Mount that clearly demonstrates that most people have no concept of what "the love of Jesus" entails. It is almost a given in our culture that Jesus "accepts all people as they are" and places no demands. He is known for "welcoming sinners" and it seems at times that the only folks He ever gets frustrated with are the religious types (self righteous).
There is some truth there, no doubt, and Jesus does welcome sinners. He is against "laying heavy burdens" on their backs. He is against excluding sinners and failing to reach out to them. However, as He sits with sinners and calls them home there is one word which somehow is forgotten by contemporary Christians: repent.
In the sermon on the mount you could argue that Jesus explains "repentance" pretty clearly. He is on the offensive, as I said, and He is honed in on the human heart. Call it a "heart attack." Jesus is, of course, the love and mercy of God Incarnate. But as we have read in God's self description in Exodus a few days ago the mercy of God has a companion [Exodus 34:6-8 The Lord, the Lord a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger , and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression, yet by no means clearing the guilty... That last line is the companion piece, the balancing dimension, or the rest of the story. Like faith (it includes works), forgiveness includes Justice and Repentance.
So when Jesus talked about the sin of anger (yesterday) He was only warming up. Today He blasted lust. Adultery, He says, is an act of the heart, whether one proceeds with action or not. He also forbids divorce and remarriage (except for unchastity), something which is pretty much accepted now. And He forbids vows as coming from Satan (let your yes be yes and your no be no). Why turn up the pressure?
My theory is that we are too often enamored with the legal system as a model for understanding salvation. The Bible is full of it, so it is understandable, but the models of the Bible are analogical. They are giving us insight into the reality based on things we know about. We are familiar with laws and courts. [The Bible also uses lots of economic models: sin is a debt, redemption is to buy back someone] Even the Christian approach is often times overly legalistic. We celebrate the imputed righteousness of Christ (i.e. He gives us what we cannot do on our own). We equate grace with being "made righteous" in Christ. But the problem is imputed righteousness does not effect change in people. When someone is declared innocent that does not mean that they are. If you live in a neighborhood surrounded by organized crime you can take little solace knowing they have never been convicted. The kingdom of God is open to all, but inside the kingdom we have to act differently. If we remain self centered sinners how can we possibly be "good neighbors" of others in the Kingdom?
SO Jesus attacks the heart of the problem, our hearts. He makes clear that a clean/pure heart is a requirement for Kingdom living. He demands that because He loves us. If He did not care He would not really love us. So Matthew 5 provides insight into the teeth of love and the problem with acceptance withour repentance.
And I have little else to say because I have my own heart work to do. It begins with praying "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." Many times.