It’s all so simple. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. And we have a list of things to do, to be, to avoid, to engage with. As I’m reading through Matthew, a week in, so much has been said, and so many things challenged that I am already overwhelmed by the depth of the message and the challenges to my way of living. These blogs aren’t intended to be an academic consideration of the finer points of the Matthew’s Gospel. They’re simply an immediate and raw response to the words and the meaning. But it’s difficult not to go off on some flight of theological fancy at pretty much every turn.
Today we have so many references to the Hebrew scriptures, the ten commandments in particular. And some extremely famous bits about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and the shirt on your back. They all point one way: to God. Remember, after the wilderness: Repent! For the Kingdom is at hand. It still is. The Kingdom of Heaven in near and we must be prepared. But how. The Sermon on the mount tells us how: Jesus is being radical, but only by telling us to return to God. God is there waiting for us. He has not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. The messages of behaving like this, or not doing that, are all about reconnecting: repenting.
He’s come back from the wilderness and has stood firm against the evils of this world: the desire to be better than everyone, the capacity to corrupt the world for our own purposes, the opportunity to test God. And then, we are confronted with the old laws. We have to deal with adultery, divorce, reconciliation. And it all seems to be rather authoritarian. Not the liberating Christ we think we know, the Christ who forgives, who consorts with the outcasts ad lepers. All this talk of gouging out your eyes seem so grim. But remember: the laws and rules that Jesus exhorts us to follow are not humanity’s rules, but God’s. We must stand firm against tyranny. But how: by forcing the tyrant to respect us as equals. We must not give in to slavery, but force the enslaver to recognise us as human. We must not conform to bullying but must show the world the true nature of the bully.
And, most of all: we must love our enemy. Our enemy, not our neighbour: that would be easy. Our enemy. How daunting is that? How radical? Finally, how perfect: like our Heavenly Father.