He Who Has the Gold, Makes the Rules
Dr. Jim Denison
I mentioned last week that I teach Men’s Bible Study because I have stories I can’t tell on Sunday. Some of you wondered what I meant. Here are some stories which get close to the line.
“Cash, check or charge?” the clerk asked. As the woman fumbled for her wallet, the clerk noticed a television remote control in her purse. “Do you always carry your TV remote?” “No, my husband refused to come to the store with me, so I figured this was the most evil legal thing I could do to him.” Speaking for all men everywhere, I can tell her that she’s right.
A man said to his wife, “I don’t know how you can be so dumb and so beautiful at the same time.” “It’s easy to explain,” she said. “God made me beautiful so you would be attracted to me; and he made me dumb so I would be attracted to you.”
It’s always appropriate to work on our relationships. President Bush has been in Europe this week, strengthening ties with our allies. Israel has released 500 Palestinian prisoners, and has determined to leave Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank. Syria will withdraw from Lebanon, in hopes of expediting peace there.
Relationships come first. As C. S. Lewis reminds us, you have never met a mortal. The next person you see will exist long after this church is gone, this city is no more, this planet is history. Relating to others biblically is a subject of eternal significance.
So, what does the greatest sermon in Christian history have to say on the subject? As we survey the Sermon on the Mount relative to the sixth Covenant value, let’s make this personal. Who is your problem person today? What relationship do you most need to improve? Where do you need to hear from the Father this morning?
Seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:21-26)
The rabbis said, “Do not murder, for anyone who murders will be subject to judgment” (v. 21).
Jesus goes much further: “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (v. 22a). “Anger” here is not thumos, the inevitable human reaction to hurt or harm. Rather, his word is orge–the deliberate choice to continue holding onto your anger, the absolute unwillingness to pardon and move on.
“Raca” was an Aramaic term of contempt, a public insult.
“Fool” was the worst insult of the day, meaning a person of no value or character whatsoever.
Now, you are at the altar in the Temple, sacrifice in hand. In our context, you’re just about to put money in the offering plate. In my setting, I’m walking up to the pulpit to begin the sermon. And then I remember that someone has something like this against me. Right or wrong, he thinks I have held onto anger, or insulted or harmed him. If anybody has anything against you today, you qualify.
What do we do? Seek reconciliation. Take the initiative. Do it now, before matters get to the judge and the officer and the jail. It will never be any easier than it is today. Take the high road. Take the first step. Make the phone call. Ask for lunch. Write the note. Do it now.
A wise old saint says, “I will never allow another person to ruin my life by making me hate him.” With whom do you need to take the initiative this week? Where do you need to seek reconciliation?
Stop the cycle of vengeance (5:38-42)
Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth'” (v. 38). This is the oldest law in the world, known as the Lex Talionis. It appears in the Code of Hammurabi, dated to 2285 B.C. It is in the Old Testament as well: “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25).
Before this law, if I wrecked your car you could destroy my house. If I injured your child, you could kill all my children. The original purpose of the law was thus to limit vengeance. Only the one who caused the injury could be punished, not his entire family or tribe. And only to the degree that he has injured another, protecting him from a more powerful enemy. This law did not promote retribution–it limited it.
Now Jesus takes the principle further: “Do not resist an evil person” (v. 39b). Even though you have the right, don’t insist upon them. He gives us four examples of his principle at work.
Your honor: “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 39c). “Strikes” in the original means to “slap.” The right hand was the only one used in public. To slap your right cheek with my right hand was an insult, not a threat to life and limb. Jesus says, Don’t slap back. Someone insults you–don’t insult them.
Your possessions: “If someone wants to use you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (v. 40). Your “tunic” was your undershirt with sleeves; it could be taken in a lawsuit. Your “cloak” could not, for it protected you from the elements. But give it anyway. Don’t insist on your rights.
Your time: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (v. 41). Jesus refers to the power of a Roman soldier to make a Jew carry his military pack for one mile. Carry it two miles. Sacrifice the time, though you don’t have to. Do it anyway.
Your money: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (v. 42). As Augustine reminds us, we are not told to give everything we are asked for, but to give to every person who asks. Even though it is your right not to.