Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I review how Jesus teaches about transforming love in Matthew 5:38-48. In this chapter Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like for his Kingdom. A changed heart brings about a changed life. The righteousness Jesus is teaching turns lives upside down. It is transformative. It is a new way of thinking, a new way of living. Just as the birth of a first born child changes everything, the radical love Jesus teaches changes everything about how we think, act, live, and love. As Jesus contrasts his righteousness with the righteousness of The Law we see our own inadequacy and the complete sufficiency of Jesus as the fulfillment of The Law. Jesus continues to be more concerned about our relationships with one another than he is with us following the rules and regulations of The Law. As Jesus continues to reinterpret The Law we should understand that righteousness is based in a love that does right by God and God’s created. This lesson is about transforming love; A love that reorders our life. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
Matthew is the first of the four Gospels with the other three being Mark, Luke, and John. Even though scholars note that Mark is written first, Matthew is listed first in the Protestant Bible. Matthew holds this place as the first Gospel because according to the New Interpreters Study Bible One Volume Commentary “it is concerned to link the old revelation with the new, to show the new as the culmination rather that the abrogation of what went before”. In other words, part of Matthew’s purpose is to show how the New Testament is linked to what we call the Old Testament. Additionally, “Matthew’s evident concern is to tell the story of Jesus, who is center stage in nearly every episode in the Gospel. When this text is written “Israel desires the rule of God even though that rule remained as an ideal, or a future hope. That hope is removed from the everyday reality of human frailty, faithlessness, and the brutal reality of suffering and oppression they were subjected to under Roman rule”.
Keep in mind, when this text is written the Jewish Temple has already been destroyed. That’s significant because the Israelites are now confused, distressed, and distraught because The Temple was central to their religious existence. It was the place they went to meet the requirements of God. With its destruction they question whether God has abandoned them. Matthew is written as a response to this situation, it gives the Israelites the option to choose Jesus.
Just as in last week, our text this week continues to deal with the contrast of Jesus’ righteousness against the righteousness of The Law. Notice how Jesus says “you have heard that it was said” and then he follows with “but I say unto you”. He’s telling them the Law says XYZ, but I say unto you 1, 2, 3. Jesus is more concerned about the spirit of the Law, the treatment of God’s creation, than he is with a set of rules and regulations. For Jesus, righteousness is built largely upon how all people, not just Israelites, and God’s created are treated. As Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like, he is showing us that righteousness is a spiritual matter that comes from a changed heart; A heart of love. This continues to be about the spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law. How we handle and care for our relationships with others speaks volumes about who we are and what we value. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week verse twenty-one began with “You have heard that is was said”. Here, Jesus was reminding the disciples and listeners of what the Law said long ago. As Jesus explained each of the three examples he used he was making a point. The point he was making for his disciples and the listening crowd was that He was calling them to a higher righteousness. Jesus was calling them to a spiritual righteousness based in love; not a righteousness based on strict adherence of The Law. His first example dealt with murder. Murder is a shocking and atrocious sin but Jesus says that even if you are angry with your brother or sister without cause it is essentially the same thing as murder. Jesus takes the “Old Testament”, the Hebrew Bible or The Law and he reinterprets it to take it to a whole new standard. One point we can take away from this exchange is that anger can destroy relationships.
Verses twenty-three and twenty-four reinforced this point and make it clearer that Jesus is more concerned with our human relationships, how we treat each other, than he is with whatever gift we might bring to God.
Verses twenty-five and twenty-six dealt with contentious relationships. The point here was that we should work out our differences quickly. Don’t let your differences fester. Don’t let differences linger.
Verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight dealt with adultery. But more so it dealt with how husbands ought to treat their wives who in a patriarchal society had little to no rights. Again, Jesus takes it to the next level when he said “whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Jesus was teaching the disciples and listeners the spirit of the law is what was important, not the letter of the Law. We need a changed heart. A heart of love.
Verses twenty-nine and thirty dealt with the relationship we have with our selves. Self-care is important. In fact, when we fail to take care of ourselves I argue that we are more likely to have “offending members” or causes of stumbling in our faith walk. Plucking out offending eyes or cutting off offending hands is not to be taken literally. Again, Jesus was making a point. He is showing us that the righteousness of his kingdom goes beyond following rules.
In verses thirty-one and thirty-two Jesus again uses the “you have heard it was said, but I say unto you” formula. This time Jesus dealt with another matter of the heart; spousal relationships. Keep in mind that through much of history, in patriarchal societies, women were treated as property. Jesus was telling us that the spousal relationship should not be abused. The righteousness of Jesus’ kingdom is in large part based on doing right by others. As Jesus reinterprets The Law of Moses he takes it to the next level to make guilty the male who divorces his wife and the man who marries a divorced wife. Again, Jesus is driving home his point and I argue that this too should not be taken literally. Women are not the property of their husband. Jesus recognized that abuse and teaches his disciples and the crowd that spousal relationships are important.
As we continue to focus on the idea of a heartfelt covenant, this week’s lesson helps us understand the transforming love of Jesus. As Jesus continues to outline some of the rules of his kingdom, in this lesson Jesus teaches about a transforming love that is radical. It is a new way of thinking and a new way of living. It is transformative. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches About Transforming Love. Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Transforming Love. The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:38-48.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
Verse thirty-eight continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with “You have heard that is was said”. Jesus is reminding the disciples and listeners of what the Law said long ago. In this verse he reminds them of Leviticus 24:19-20 – “19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered”. Jesus reinterprets this command turning it upside down. In verse thirty-nine he literally says to do the opposite. The righteousness of Jesus goes beyond The Law. His righteousness takes it to the next level. A level that in some cases may be unattainable for humans not controlled by the Holy Spirit. Verse thirty-nine requires us to “turn the other cheek”. With this pacifism Jesus is making the point that his righteousness is a radical, complete, and transformative way to love who God has created. Even if the people God created are the very ones who wronged you. Jesus is telling us that our relationships should be founded upon and intertwined with a love that is all-encompassing. It is a radical way to love.
This verse also causes us to evaluate the idea of retributive justice against the idea of restorative justice. Retributive justice is “the view that God’s justice intends to give sinners that which their sins deserve (Jer. 5:29, 20:12)”. Restorative justice “emphasizes an equal concern for crime victims and offenders, while deemphasizing the importance of coercion. It also seeks to focus on the harm done to persons and relationships rather than on the violation of a law” (The Free Dictionary). In other words, retributive justice would not turn the other cheek whereas restorative justice would require the one who slaps a person to repair or somehow pay reparation to the one slapped. In this way, relationships can be made whole and community restored because both the victim and the offender are involved in restoring community.
Verse forty deals with our relationship with the legal system or as Townsend Commentary puts it “legal revenge”. The point for us to know is that even in a legal matter, love is the overriding dominate principle. This kind of love is indeed radical. Jesus is making his point. He is telling us when we are sued to willingly give more than the law requires, even to our own detriment.
Verse forty-one tells us to “go the extra mile”. Standard Commentary notes that “By law, a Roman soldier could compel a person to carry his gear, but only for one mile”. Roman soldiers were despised by the Israelites. The Romans had occupied the land of Israel, destroyed The Temple, and oppressed the Israelites. To go the extra mile for your oppressor is indeed a radical love.
Verse forty-two speaks to our relationship with money. Our economic system and our societal values today are vastly different from this time in ancient history. The point here is for us to be generous when and where we are able. Again, it is the relationship that matters. When and where we can we ought to always seek to build, restore, and make relationships whole even, if not especially, when involving money in our society today.
Verse forty-three and forty-four return to the “You have heard that it was said” “but I say unto you formula”. In verse forty-three Jesus reminds us the law says to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Standard Commentary notes that “it was a popular misapplication of the command where the logically opposite has been added: hate thine enemy”. “Nowhere does the biblical law command one to hate an enemy”. The point Jesus is making is that his righteousness requires a radical, life changing, transformative love. This love can only spring from a changed heart. A heart transformed by love. A heart that returns good for evil.
Verse 45 helps us understand that what happens to someone else could just as easily happen to you. God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and God sends rain on the just and the unjust. Good things can happen to bad people and bad things can happen to good people. In as much as we are the recipients of good and the victims of bad we are all “in this boat together”. God loves all of God’s creation and so should we. Again, this is a radical, countercultural love that we ought to always strive for.
In verses forty-six and forty-seven Jesus is making his point clear. If you only love those who love you how are you different from the despised tax collectors who often abused and cheated the Israelites.
In verse forty-eight Jesus tells us to be perfect even as God in heaven is perfect. This indeed is a tall order. I should note that Townsend Commentary describes this perfection as meaning “mature and full grown”. We are not and cannot be perfect. Yet, we can be mature and complete in our love toward God’s creation and especially God’s people. Our goal is perfect love, that is what we are striving for.
Our text this week is a strong call to nonviolence based in restorative love. The US criminal justice system is based on retribution and in some cases rehabilitation. Another model which I believe is more closely related to the teachings of Jesus is restorative justice. Restorative justice acknowledges the victim of crime and includes the victim in determining how the offense is to be resolved. It holds space for reconciliation. It holds space for renewal of relationship between victims of crime and perpetrators of crime. It’s not easy, but the radical love Jesus calls us to is not easy either. God is concerned with our relationship with others. It’s easy to love those who love you, it’s not so easy to love the “unlovable”. If we are to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, he calls us to a radical love. A transforming love based on our relationships with others.
Key Characters in the text:
Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity. He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God.
Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles. Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person. As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government. This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.
Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil. Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees. It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ.
Agape – The self-giving love seen supremely in God’s love for the world (John 3:16) and as a mark of the Christian life (I Cor. 13).
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. What radical love looks like.
2. Being perfect in an imperfect world.
1. Discuss ways you have been transformed by love.
2. Discuss why relationships are so important in Jesus’ Kingdom.
This week’s lesson teaches us about transforming love. A changed heart brings about a changed life. The righteousness Jesus is teaching turns lives upside down. It is transformative. It is a new way of thinking, a new way of living. As Jesus contrasts his righteousness with the righteousness of The Law we see our own inadequacy and the complete sufficiency of Jesus as the fulfillment of The Law.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount teaching about spiritual discernment. This lesson will help us contrast judging others against discerning spiritual matters involving others. As Jesus continues to show us what righteousness in his kingdom looks like, I will highlight our response to being judged and discerning true prophets and disciples. Next week the text continues at Matthew 7:1-6, and 15-23.