On Matthew, Chapter Five

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If people do cruel or unkind things, it is natural to become angry, and  in that anger threaten them. I heard a woman lecturing her husband who had done a very  bad thing by saying, “If I were you, I would be afraid to die.” She meant he should be  afraid of dying since he might go to hell because of the really evil thing he had done.

Now I, as everyone has, have done bad things at times. Otherwise I would not be human and as all of us humans “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ) I am not chief among the sinners but I would have you know that I am holding my own.

So what? We should not be afraid to die or approach God because of any evil we have done. The nature of God is Love. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? “ (Romans 8:35 ) asks the Apostle as he  enumerates things to illustrate that nothing can separate us from the love of God but ourselves. Those choosing separation from God make a shallow and probably unhealthy for them long range decision. But  unwise choice does not mean a chooser should be shunned socially but still be treated as a child of God even though he may not know he is one. We know better. Never be rude to those who disagree on God or  about God. Never be violent. Cultivate a sense of humor. Laugh and let some things pass. Leave them to Heaven. Be fair on earth.

Nothing we have done should make us afraid to die or approach God now, because God is love. Bad actions we have done may make us ashamed to die or approach God. We may be ashamed to face God because of something we did, but that does not mean we should be afraid of Him. When I was a boy I was not afraid of my father who I knew loved me very much, but I was ashamed to do things that would disappoint Him. This is the way we should serve God. Ashamed to disappoint Him but not afraid of Him, never feeling we have to run away from Him or have committed an “unforgivable” sin.

We should try to please God because of our admiration for Him and the love we bear Him, considering His many gifts and benefits to us, including physical life through common grace, and spiritual life through  special grace, we should be living in constant thankfulness for all graces. Everything we do should be done out of Thanksgiving to God. That is the true way to worship God. Our lives are our worship .We  love Him and thank Him in the flesh for our bodies and minds by developing them to excellence, or as best we can, and using them to their best ability which is to His glory. We love God and thank Him in the spirit  through rejuvenating Communion with Him and attaining devotional transcendence to better attune us to  God.

Of course we should be sorry for what we have done to disappoint God, yet to be afraid He is going to do us harm or evil or torture or have some low revenge on those He loves dearly, well, that is not the way to go  about living, or the attitude to live with, or the way to die, or the right attitude to die with. If we chance to do bad things at times, and the chances are we shall, let us be sorry and ashamed before God, but let us never fear that God is going to do bad, mean and spiteful things in revenge as we flawed humans in His place might like to see done. His ways are not our ways, says the Psalmist of God. Gods ways are higher  and more spiritual.

Thinking God is out to get us if we do wrong, is the result of doing natural but wrong impulse thinking. We have done wrong to Him so He will do wrong to us.This type of simplified emotional response is natural and spontaneous in us, but it is a really ignorant and dangerous way to go in answering to some circumstances that happen to us . Allowing the immediate reactions of our impulsive self to be our solutions to problems tends to engage a “boomerang” effect in human relations, violence returns violence, hate sends hate back. It’s a moral boomerang situation.

This type of spontaneous unwise reaction that I call the “Boomerang” effect is that you get back from others the emotions you send out. What the flesh prompts you spontaneously to do should be considered first. Self-control is a virtue that enables those acted upon to have time to consider what they do before they automatically react back. That is what Jesus meant when He said to turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:39) If  you follow an offence automatically with a knee-jerk but normal enough impulse, like when slapped to slap back, it may lead to tragedy. It becomes “he slaps, the other slaps back, the anger mounts and someone may get killed.

Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is a excellent example of the “boomerang principle.” It goes insult for insult, violence for violence, slap for slap, then a fight, then an enraged killing. Unfortunate Romeo is left standing over the dead body of Juliet’s kinsman whom he has killed, and too late has a moment of enlightenment. He has followed his natural impulses unthinkingly and without pausing for self - analysis. He sees the dead body of his wife’s kinsman. He screams rightly enough, “I am fortune’s fool.” Yes, he is.

Jesus in the Fifth Chapter of Matthew is trying to show us how to avoid being “fortune’s fool.” In this case Jesus and Shakespeare are on the same side teaching not to settle for the short range spontaneous solutions, but instead, create some sort of long range solution. Both suggests first have some self-control, and then think beyond the natural knee jerk impulses to create a possible long range solution.

Jesus tries to have us see the possible long range tragedy that may be the result of following short range non-thinking impulses. Shakespeare shows it. Jesus wants us to create intelligent, more caring, solutions.  What Jesus is teaching is idealistic but it makes so much sense. Jesus says not to hate your enemies but love them. Why?

It is what God would like,on the idealistic side, but there is also the unsaid practical side: you may be able to eliminate an enemy. Jesus said when someone wants to borrow from you, give it to him. The idealistic  side is, maybe it will really help the other person so this is what God wants you to do. (But let us remember  as God and man Jesus knew human nature backward and forward.) The practical unsaid side is if you don’t let the borrower have it, he may come back and steal what he wants anyway. Let’s be benevolent  (full of grace) and give it to him. The ideal solution is advocated but the practical side is implied if unsaid, but you know very well the clever Jewish citizens being taught got both messages: the idealistic said and the practical unsaid.

Jesus advised if attacked, don’t just slap back to make a fight. The idealistic side is, God is in favor of  peace. The practical side is, someone may get killed. Think, man! Is your appearing manly before the other boys or your girl friend worth a man’s life or even your life if your opponent has a knife? Think ahead.

Jesus said to do good to those who hate you.The idealistic side is God wants you to be good and not hate back. Be more mature. But the practical side is: maybe in doing good you can make a friend out of a  potentially dangerous enemy who hates your guts. If it fails, you tried. What’s the harm in trying?.

Jesus advises us to pray for those who spitefully use us. The idealistic reason is God wants us to be forgiving. That’s the idealistic side. But the practical side is, really, why not? What will prayer cost you?  Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies. That’s the idealistic side. God wants us to have the right attitude. But why not pray? The practical side is your enemies may be so mean they need your prayers. So pray and  pray for them. The only way they are going to be changed and transformed is by grace. Pray for them to receive grace. In James 5:16 it says ,“the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Sometimes we must pray things in. Sometimes we must pray things out. It is our prayers that fill the sails and His grace that makes the currents go, that both bring the good ships of Zion into a safe harbor.

What we should admire in the Fifth Chapter of Matthew, a Gospel chapter, is Jesus is teaching idealism as God’s reason but behind God’s idealism are some very practical consequences. Idealism is eminently practical. It is teaching mankind to do the right things but doing the right thing can mean some very practical insights to the problems of human nature. Jesus wanted virtue done for God, but He knew man‘s nature. Many think idealism is not practical, but it is very practical and should be considered, not dismissed by the cynical as the wrong way to do things. Sometimes idealism is the only practical choice.

In the Fifth Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is teaching idealism, but the implications of idealism for practical human nature should be thought about by scripture searchers are clear. Idealism is a  far more practical thing than is commonly realized. Jesus was not naive for teaching idealism. It was also often practical. Is not this how the way of Christ should be taught? Teach God but know man.

These teachings of Jesus in the Fifth Chapter of Matthew: don’t advise you to do the knee-jerk thing. Those solutions tend to boomerang. Don’t assume because you have fallen short of the glory of God, God has  turned on you. That is a simplistic moral assumption unworthy of God.

The teachings of Jesus in the Fifth Chapter of Matthew may be hard for us to do or swallow because our pride and stubbornness tend to make mountains out of mole hills. Me? Turn the other cheek? Me? Pray for  my enemies? For humans mole hills often look big as mountains to cross and seem very difficult to get over. But why hold back? Why be shy? “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

When you include God in your world view, the mountains go back to being mole hills you can step over. With God comes a new perspective. You will receive better sight. You will have deeper insights. You will no longer have the limited materialistic views that make you an inferior person, but the views of a spiritually awake superior person who does what others are afraid to, and sees perspectives and truths others cannot. You will be superior too because you reason, but not only do you reason, you reason in Christ Jesus. Yours is the highest reason.  

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Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.