Questions to Consider
1. Briefly review the “middle parts” (ex: merciful, poor in spirit) of the Beatitudes, the “salt and light” passage, and the “heart of the law” passage in Matthew 5:1-12, 13-16, 14-20. Now read 38-48 in light of those passages.
Summarize 38-48 in your own words. Is Jesus talking about personal offenses in this passage or crimes which require the governing authorities to mete out justice? In other words, if someone commits a murder, are the police to “turn the other cheek”? Is that what Jesus is saying here?
2. In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists the traits that define Christian character. In much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount He fleshes out what many of these character traits look like when walked out in “real life”. Which of the traits (the “middle parts” – there could be several) listed in the Beatitudes is Jesus expanding on in 38-48? Especially note verse 45.
(Helpful hint: If you want to get those “middle parts” into your brain so you don’t have to keep flipping back to verses 1-12, here’s a helpful memory aid I discovered last week as I was preparing this lesson – there are 4 “P’s”: poor in spirit, pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted, 3 “M’s”: mourn, meek, merciful, and 2 “R’s”: (hunger and thirst for) righteousness, reviled. You won’t have them all in order, and you won’t have the entirety of each verse, but those middle parts will stick.)
How does retaliation bland your saltiness? (13-16) How can acting in a loving way toward those who mistreat you make you saltier and brighter?
3. Review from our previous lessons (links above) the idea that the Sermon on the Mount is to the New Testament / new covenant what the Ten Commandments were to the Old Testament / old covenant.
Though retaliation and loving our enemies is not specifically mentioned in the Ten Commandments (it is dealt with elsewhere in the law), which of the Ten Commandments could be connected to instances of retaliating, or refusing to retaliate, against someone who has hurt you? For example: How could murdering or bearing false witness against someone be forms of retaliation? How could refusing to retaliate against a parent who has hurt you be a form of honoring your parent?
Are the Old Testament eye for an eye passages advocating taking personal vengeance on someone who has wronged you, or are they describing the just legal punishment for a criminal offense to be meted out by the governing authorities?
How do Jesus’ phrases “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” verbally transition the people from their focus on outward obedience to the letter of the law to zeroing in on the attitude of their hearts and the spirit of the law? Explain how loving your enemies is the heart of the law behind the Commandments you cited as answers in the paragraph above.
4. Review: Examine again the “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” proclamation. Who had the people heard it (the law) said by? Who taught them the law? How does Jesus saying, “But I say to you…” establish Jesus’ supremacy over the Pharisees, scribes, priests, etc. Imagine you’re one of these Jewish leaders and you’re hearing Jesus say this. What might your initial reaction be?
Recalling our Sermon on the Mount / Ten Commandments motif, how might Jesus’ “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” proclamation have evoked images of Moses as lawgiver, and signaled to the Jewish leaders and people that the better Moses was here?
5. When it comes to responding to someone who has wronged you, is restraining yourself from retaliating enough – a complete response – according to 38-42? How is controlling yourself and restraining yourself from retaliating, but instead doing good (38-42) demonstrating love for that person (43-48)? Compare Jesus’ “preaching” in this passage about retaliation and loving our enemies to His “practice” in these passages. How did he set the perfect example for us of loving our enemies? How does God demonstrate “common grace” love to His enemies in 45b? Why does Jesus instruct us to love our enemies? How does going above and beyond the attitudes and actions of the tax collectors and Gentiles (46,47) demonstrate that we are Christians or “sons of our Father who is in Heaven” (45)?
6. Think of the times when you’ve shared the gospel with someone. Have you ever tried to explain to someone that she is a sinner only to hear her say, “Well nobody’s perfect, but I’m better that that guy over there!” or “Maybe I’m not perfect, but I’ve never murdered anybody.”? How does verse 48 (and 46-47) help us understand that God – not other fallen, sinful people – is the perfect standard we should measure ourselves against? Will we ever measure up to His perfection? How does this help us see why we need Jesus – the perfect sacrifice for our sin – who made us perfect?
A woman who is reading this passage through the lens of an abusive marriage may wonder, “Does this passage mean I have to allow myself to be abused?”. No, it doesn’t mean that at all. This is an occasion when it’s really helpful to understand the context and culture behind the passage.
If you did the homework in lesson 6 (link above) and read my article The Mailbag: Is Lust a Sin for Women, Too?, you’ll recall the unspoken understanding of the people hearing Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount that He was addressing the men, and any women and children who were there were basically just along for the ride. Jesus isn’t talking in this passage about a woman being abused by a man. Because He’s understood to be addressing the men, He’s also understood to be talking about an altercation between two men – equals, more or less. No one would have understood Jesus to mean (nor did He mean) that He was endorsing abuse or saying women had to be punching bags for abusers.
Think about how God designed and built men differently from the way He designed and built women. If Joe slaps both Tom and Mary in the face, who is going to be more likely to turn around and beat Joe to a pulp? Tom is – especially if he’s the same size or bigger than Joe is. Men are much more prone to, “You hit me, I kill you back.” (Any mom of two or more boys can vouch for the truth of this statement!) How does Jesus’ instruction to Tom to turn the other cheek to Joe flesh out “blessed are the meek,” “the merciful,” and “the peacemakers”? How does it tie in to the earlier passage on anger?
All of that being said, that doesn’t mean this passage only applies to men, and that if Mary slaps you in the face you can scratch her eyes out because you’re both women. Loving our enemies and treating them in a loving way might look a little different for women, but the principle is still the same. Think about an incident in which someone treated you poorly. How did you respond? What role did pride, selfishness, or anger play in your response? Did you refrain from retaliating and do good to that person? Make a plan for how you will respond the next time someone mistreats you. How can you be meek, merciful, and a peacemaker in that situation?