Now begins a section in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 5:21-48) where six times He says, “You have heard it said…” which is followed by, “But I say…” It is clearly a reinterpretation of the law for the benefit of the Pharisees, and anyone else who thinks they can follow it.
For the purpose of grasping what Jesus is doing here, I’m going to summarize all six, because you get the full impact when you take them all at once. Remember, this immediately follows, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, if you want to use the law to get into heaven, this is what you will have to do and not do.
You have heard… Do not kill anyone.
But I say… Anger or hatred in your heart is the same as murder.
You have heard… Don’t commit adultery.
But I say… Lust in your heart is the same as adultery.
You have heard… Don’t divorce without a certificate.
But I say… Divorcing and marrying another is adultery, too.
You have heard… Don’t break your oath.
But I say… Don’t make an oath, because you will break it.
You have heard… Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.
But I say… Don’t retaliate; turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; lend to the one who wants to borrow.
You have heard… Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say… Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?
Well now, based on this, let’s see how we measure up. As far as I’m concerned, after just one day… say, yesterday… I killed a few people, committed adultery numerous times, broke a few oaths, at least wanted to retaliate, and had a few unloving thoughts toward a perceived enemy or two. That’s five out of six I broke, and the only reason I wasn’t a 100% failure was because I didn’t happen to get divorced and remarried yesterday, but, of course, I was already guilty of adultery, anyway, so that hardly counts in my favor.
And what is the point of all this? What is Jesus doing here? He’s showing me, and any other Pharisee like me, that to “be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect” is completely beyond me to do. And if I’m hoping I might please God or get into heaven by being a pretty good guy … I better think again.