Bible literalists. They drive me crazy. Mainly because they don’t know their Bibles very well. Perhaps you have some friends who spout this: “I believe every word in the Bible is LITERALLY true.” These same folk want you to read Revelation and every other book literally.
Here’s a cure! Sit them down and read today’s passage from Matthew 5 with them. Then look up in amazement and ask them why they still have any hands or eyes! Jesus continues in the Sermon on the Mount in serious hyperbole: “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off!”
Bible reading is serious business!
The high drama begins as he takes on, first, adultery, then divorce, and then swearing falsely (meaning the making or breaking of oaths). It turns out much is demanded of the one who seeks to follow Christ.
By the time he is done with his litany, no one is left unscathed – all fall short. Not even the Pharisees and scribes, who were seen by the people as being blameless and perfect in the eyes of God, go away with clean hands.
This is not to diminish his words. Individual accountability is important, as well as community failings.
Interestingly enough, this is not the trajectory of the gospel, but it is an important part of the sequence. Jesus is not here to focus on how bad we are, nor did he come to, as some of my Baptist minister friends jest, “scare the hell out of you.”
And so this passage isn’t about making everyone blind or hand-less.
Rather, Matthew’s gospel sets up the grand narrative of the rejection of the one we call Messiah. He lays out the disappointment of the people who are looking for a political Messiah. He spells out the brokenness of the earth, through the miracles and parables, but also Jesus’ rejection and brokenness. This kind of Messiah was not able to fix the brokenness in their way, but in his way.
In this way it wasn’t Hell he was interested in, but Heaven. He came to point a way to the heavenly kingdom, but that Heaven was not where the people wanted to go. They were focused on the future, Jesus was focused on the present. They were focused on Roman destruction. Jesus was focused on a renewal of faith.
Jesus rails against the whole system today in the Sermon on the Mount. So stay tuned. As you know, the story takes a dark turn from here.
Jesus is asking: Can you really see what is going on here?