2017, April 3, Monday

I am finally feeling better. I slept deeply and wanted to sleep longer, and my appetite is back. A little congestion remains, so I still need to be careful. Besides Sister Sickness’s own time, oil of oregano might have helped me make the quick come back.

Today I gave back my leased car and leased a new car for another three years. In my judgment I need a car; I wanted a hybrid because I want my miles per gallon to reflect what should be a minimal modern standard (45-50 mpg); and I wanted to pay a low price for a safe car. A decision like this is always a calculation, and we do the best we can. It is done.

Let me return to Matthew.

The Sermon on the Mount: the Next Layer Out

If we take one step out from Matthew 6:1-18, both before and after, we are looking at what are incorrectly called the Six Antitheses of 5:21-48 (the two halves of which are exactly equal in length) and what seems to be teachings about worldly goods, divine providence, judging others and prayer in 6:19—7:11. Both the before and after, 5:21-48 and 6:19—7:11, are equal in length to each other. Some sort of correspondence seems to be at work. But how are they related to each other, other than the rather trivial aspect of size? Perhaps the question can be further probed by asking first about what is the underlying point, if there is one, that unites them.

Matthew 5:21-48

Considering 5:21-48, six times Jesus says the following:

  1. “You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not …’ but I say to you that everyone who …” (5:21-22)
  2. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not …’ but I say to you that everyone who …” (5:27-28)
  3. “And it was said, ‘Whoever …’ but I say to you that everyone who …” (5:31-32)
  4. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not …’ but I tell you …” (5:33-34)
  5. “You have heard that it was said … but I tell you …” (5:38-39)
  6. “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …” (5:43-44)

They signal six examples of how Jesus would not negate but rather intensify the teaching of the Torah (or Halakha). They set forth, not antitheses, but amplifications. They are:

  1. Not only should you not murder, but you should not allow a relationship to go bad in the first place, and fix the ones that have.
  2. Not only should you avoid actually committing adultery, but you should respect other peoples’ relationships (the word translated “lust” means to covet, which is to make a commodity of something, as if it were a thing to possess).
  3. Not only should you not discard your wife without any regard for her by first getting a bill of divorce, but you should not treat her as if you were discarding her at all, for all bonds of love are eschatological (and forever); no human being should be treated as if you could obtain or discard them, as if they were something we owned.
  4. Not only should you not break an oath, but your every word should be trustworthy when it proceeds out of your mouth. An oath backs up your word for people as if otherwise it might not stand on its own, but it is what God hears that matters.
  5. Not only should wrongs be paid back only in proportion, but you should leave retribution entirely to God. And for yourself, lest you make yourself guilty, you should “pay back” a wrong or an imposition only with an excess of goodness and generosity.
  6. Not only should you not limit your love to your neighbors and allow yourself to hate your enemies, but your love of neighbor should overflow with love for your enemies as well.

These all have to do with the integrity of our relationships to others. How would Jesus intensify the minimum pre- and pro-scriptions of the Halakha? It is never about the requirement of the behavior itself but something deeper—that would take the behavior in question further, towards its goal or telos. (The etymology of the word “Torah” has to do with an arrow seeking its target. See here.) The question what is that deeper thing—that aim—is. In all these examples, the Torah is never abrogated; rather the command to love the neighbor (the second table of the Decalogue) is intensified. The Torah requires that we love God and love our neighbor. Jesus’ standard is that “you may become sons of your Father who is in the heavens.” The word sonship does not mean what we usually understand: children. It refers to coming into one’s majority when one has come to a measure of maturity. A son or daughter has become like their parent when they have come of age. “You therefore shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word “perfect” refers to the reaching of a goal, a sprout growing into a tree, a fruit ripening, a child becoming an adult, or maturation. Jesus is saying that the measure of our love is God’s own love: our love of God reflects God’s love for God’s own image (the eternal Son), and that Image’s love back again. Our love of neighbor is that same Divine love extended to human beings and the rest of creation, for it all reflects back to the Creator the mark of the Creator’s handicraft. In the creation the Creator sees her own face.

In each example that Jesus gives, the Halakha sets a boundary as a minimum (because of the hardness of our hearts). When we are concerned with measuring the exterior purity of an action by a metric of boundaries, however, what we really are concerning ourselves with are the boundaries that people can measure us by. Jesus however thinks that we should not be concerned with how humans see and measure us but with how we appear in the sight of God, how God sees us. We should notice that for Jesus the Divine is the overarching (indeed, overwhelming) reality in the light of which everything else appears, and, in Jesus’ view, should be seen. And here notice that the Divine sees the internal reality of things as well as their external appearance, indeed, they are not two. We are exposed and judged in that light by the measure to which our love conforms to God’s own unbounded love. To focus instead only on an exterior purity with respect to maintaining minimal boundaries is therefore misguided. There is no wiggle room to withhold love from anyone. (Hence to hate one’s enemies is to misunderstand the command to love one’s neighbor as a limit instead of an invitation that is open to doing more.)

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