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The ethics of Jesus' kingdom

March 14, 2023

Daily Scripture

Matthew 5:17-48

17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder [Exodus 20:13], and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery [Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18]. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.
31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate’ [Deuteronomy 24:1]. 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord [Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21]. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Jesus’ words may surprise you. Many Christians think Jesus did come to do away with “the law.” Scholar N. T. Wright said, “Jesus didn’t intend to abandon the law and the prophets. Israel’s whole story, commands, promises and all, was going to come true in him…. a way was opening up… to make God’s covenant a reality… changing behavior not just by teaching but by a change of heart and mind.” * Jesus challenged a misuse of “law” that had taken a deep hold on his day’s religious leaders.

  • The Old Testament prophets said, often, that God cares about the inner spirit driving our acts far more than any outer show of piety (see Isaiah 1:10–15; Jeremiah 6:20; Amos 5:21–24). Jesus hadn’t come to “do away with” the law. He’d come to apply the law to the true source of both good and bad: our (often hidden) inner self. When have you realized that your outward behavior did not match what was inside you? How has Jesus changed your heart and mind for the better?
  • Jesus spoke to anger, faithlessness, falsehood, revenge, and love’s significance. John Wesley (Methodism’s founder) said Jesus called us to be “perfect in love,” ever more loving with God’s all-inclusive love. He rejected the idea that “perfect” meant never “sinning” (missing the mark). Why does it matter to see “perfect” (or complete) as about your inner self rather than just your visible actions? How can you more fully live with God’s generosity toward even “unrighteous” people?

Eternal God, you were with Israel’s King David when he wrote “you want truth in the most hidden places” (Psalm 51:6). You taught that in the Sermon on the Mount. Now plant your truth deep inside me. Amen.

GPS Insights

Denise Mersmann

Denise Mersmann

Denise Mersmann serves as the Care Coordination Director for the churchwide Care Central department at Church of the Resurrection.

A few years ago, I was talking with someone who was being very hard on herself over some things she had done. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think this person was likely very critical of her spouse and children if they made unwise choices. She didn’t seem to allow much grace for missteps.

But as I got to know this person better and saw her interact with family and friends, I found that she was actually very quick to extend grace, immediately assuring others that they had only made a small misstep and that they could use that as a learning experience to do better next time.

Around this same time, I began to notice another person I spent time with was very generous in giving themself grace. When, in many cases it felt like they had seriously stepped over a line, they were quick to pass it off with comments like, “they know I didn’t mean it” and “I can’t be responsible for everyone’s happiness.” I extrapolated that behavior to assume (yes, I know about assuming) this person would extend enormous grace to others.

Well, if you guessed my assumption was wrong, you are right!

The person who set the bar high for herself offered abundant grace to others who fell short. The person who was okay with a lower set of standards for themselves was reluctant to extend grace to others for any shortcoming, large or small.

How does that make sense? If I am okay with a low behavior bar for myself, then shouldn’t I also be okay with others having less than model behavior? And If I live my life striving to meet a high moral standard, doesn’t it make sense that I would expect the same from others? And reasonably be displeased when they fail to rise up? In fact, as I thought about this and began to observe other people to see how they equate the grace given their own behavior to the grace given to others, I have found that very often those are in opposition.

As much as that didn’t make sense to me for a long time, I began to realize that people who extend grace more to others than themselves are too busy removing the log from their own eye to focus on the actions of people around them. Conversely, those who are quick to throw shade at others while boldly excusing their own shortcomings simply are too busy searching for someone else’s splinter to even realize they have a log in their eye.

So how do we become people who give grace? The answer is actually pretty simple. Not easy, but simple. Set your bar high, make it something you have to continually strive for. Realize that none of us are perfect, we will fail. Probably more often than we would like to admit.

Never forget the log in your own eye. Even if you think you have removed it, another one may easily replace it. Give grace abundantly. Give it to yourself when you fail, throw it around like confetti to everyone around you.

Accept the grace that is offered to you. Thank God for his unending grace, and also express true gratitude when grace is offered by those around you. What you will find, as you focus on how you can offer grace to others, how you can be an encourager rather than a critic, is the more grace you give, the more you will receive. And in that grace, both given and received, you will find love and peace beyond your wildest dreams!

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 41). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.