Tag Archives: Antithesis

The Sermon, part 12: Sixth Anthesis

Read Matthew 5:43-48

“Therefore, the proud may not stand in Your presence, for You hate all who do evil.” (Psalms 5:5 NLT)

Risen “You have heard the law says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!” Jesus proclaims his sixth and final antithesis to what must have been a stunned crowd. Honestly, these words should stun even us today! As of 2012, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, which makes up about 31.5% of the world’s population. Out of that 2.2 billion, how many of us truly give a wholehearted attempt to love our enemies?

As was mentioned in the previous devotion, there is NO COMMANDMENT in the Hebrew Scriptures stating that one should hate his/her enemies. Jesus’ language here is hyperbolic and rhetorical. What Jesus is doing is taking the conventional wisdom and purposfully conflating it with the law, not for any dubious purpose but because individuals and societies have often conflated the two. In the Hebrew Scriptures it says that God hates all evildoers (e.g. Psalms 5:5). What’s more, it follows that God’s people would hate evildoers as well (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:3-7; 30:7; Psalms 26:5; 139:21-22).

This is not to say that all Jews advocated for hating one’s enemies, and I would be amiss to even possibly imply that. That is not the case at all, nor is Jesus making that case. What Jesus is doing is shifting the extension love from just “God’s people” to all people, for God created all people (including the evildoers). I would also be amiss to not state that Jesus isn’t basing his command on some sort of humanitarn and/or human rights ideal or principal; rather, he is basing it solely on HIS AUTHORITY to set his own command and appose it with the Torah. He does so based off of his knowledge of the nature of God who loves and shows no impartiality (Matthew 5:45).

What’s more, his juxtapositioning of his command with the Torah reminds us of God’s eschatological (end-time) plan being enacted in the coming Kingdom. Jesus saw himself as the advent of God’s Kingdom, and he saw his disciples as children of God and “citizens” of that Kingdom. Thus, Jesus commands that his disciples conduct themselves in a way that is consistent and appropriate with their status as children of God and citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus then uses two interesting examples to further his point. “In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much” (Matthew 5:45-46 NLT).

While Jesus was known to be “friends of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19), and while we know that Jesus saw his messages a being inclusive of Gentiles (aka “pagans”, Matthew 28:18-20), he uses these two examples because of the general disdain among Jews for tax collectors and Gentiles. And there was good reason for that disdain. Tax collectors were unpatriotic Jews who were employed by the Romans to collect taxes from their own people. What’s more, they would jack up the taxes so that they could increase their profit.

Also, it was the Gentiles (aka the pagans) who were occupying and tainting the Holy Land. It was the Romans, and the Greeks before them, and the Babylonians before them, and the Assyrians before them, and the Phillistines before them, and Egypt before them who had continually kept Judah and Israel from being an independent and sovereign nations. On top of that, the Jews were divided against themselves, with some wishing to become even more like the Gentiles.

Thus, Jesus is showing the extent of God’s impartiality, and the extent in which he EXPECTS his disciples to be impartial in their showing love to others. How can you call yourself God’s children if you are doing no different than the corrupt tax collectors or the idolatrous Gentiles? How can you say, “I am God’s” if your actions scream “blessed be the WAY OF THE WORLD!” Therefore, Jesus concludes his series of antitheses with this command, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Reflect on this. Do not dilute Jesus’ call for perfection in order to find comfort and shelter from what is seemingly impossible and unattainable. Let it, for the next several days, sink in and stir up in you a desire to understand what Jesus means by perfect. Let it cause you to reflect on your own actions and on whether or not your life has lived up to God’s expectations. In our next devotion, we will take a deeper look at this seemingly impossible command.

To hate anyone is to participate in evil. To participate in evil is to become an evildoer.

Lord, steer me away from hate, especially when it is an easier path than love. Keep my heart righteous, my thoughts pure, and my actions holy. Amen.

The Sermon, part 9: Third Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:31-32

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty, ” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:16)

0308_divorce_650x455It is quite often that we will hear that divorce is on the rise in the United States. News outlets, religious leaders, and even television networks have all used the claim that about 50% of all married couples end in divorce. It is the case that, back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s divorce was at an all-time high and that there seemed to be a a marriage crisis on the rise.

The most common stat for divorce in the United States is that 40-50% of married couples end in divorce. While, I am not entirely sure if that stat holds up or not, what seems to be true is that divorce rates among married couples is actually down from the early 1980’s. For instance, the New York Times reports that 70% of couples married in the 1990’s reached their 15th anniversary, which is up from 65% of couples married in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Of those married after 2000, 11% of college-educated couples were divorced by their seventh anniversary, and 17% of couples without college degrees were divorced.

As can be seen by the stats, there isn’t as much of a “marriage crisis” as is often reported. While far too many marriages end up in divorce in this country, without doubt,  some Christian circles often overplay the divorce rate in order to push their theological and, often, political agendas. Even more unfortunately, there are some people who have remained in their marital covenant despite suffering tremendous physical, emotional and/or verbal abuse because they have been taught that Jesus forbade divorce.

Jesus’ words have been used by the Church and by ministers in a way that has been damning to spouses who are suffering under domestic violence and oppression. Rather that being redeemed by the Redeemer, many abused spouses have found themselves shackled under an even more stringent law that what the Torah offered up. This is a real shame because Jesus’ words were intended to liberate, not oppress.

Again, Jesus offers up another antithesis here. The Torah permitted any man who got a certificate from the appropriate authority to divorce his wife. While some Jewish circles called for stricter measures, in practice this could be done for any number of reasons. It could be done for good reasons such as infidelity; however, it could be done because a woman was considered by her husband to be “lazy”, or “infertile”, or not eager enough in having sex.

What’s more, a woman could not get a certificate of divorce, only a man could. While there were provisions in the Torah to protect divorced woman, such as permission to remarry, such provisions worked better on paper than in practice. What man would marry a woman who had already been married and could not please her first husband? Often times these women would become destitute and were shunned by even their families for bringing shame upon their household.

Jesus, in this antithetical form, acknowledges what the law says and then replaces it with what he says: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32 NRSV). Notice, again, Jesus reverses the laws focus from the woman to the man. Jesus states that that any man who divorces his wife CAUSES her to commit adultery. This may sound harsh on the wife, but if you read it carefully, the culpability is really on the HUSBAND.

Again, this was not said by Jesus in order to establish a new marital LAW, but rather to teach the people that God’s ways and standards are higher than ours. Jesus isn’t pushing for a new sort of legalism, nor is Jesus looking for abused spouses to remain in abusive relationships; however, Jesus is showing the people that while the religious leaders teaches the Law as given to Moses by God, Jesus gives the Law with the very authority of God. The Law isn’t presented by Christ to enslave us in some sort of legalistic system; rather, the Law is presented to point us to Christ who is the fulfillment of the Law.

Yes, let us take marriage seriously. With that said, let us also take seriously Christ’s call to grace and humility. Let us recognize that none of us can live up to the Law by our own standards, let alone by God’s. When we overlook Christ for our own theological and/or political agendas, it is we who are divorcing oursleves from the one who God has joined us with: JESUS CHRIST. Let us keep that understanding in our hearts so that we will not find ourselves separated from the one who came to save us.

“If you feel that you can follow a few little rules or some clever gimmicks to make you a mature Christian, then you have fallen into a subtle trap of legalism.” – J. Vernon McGee

Lord, teach me to be open to your heart so that you can fulfill the LAW within me. Amen.