Learning God – A study for Lent 2022
If we are to learn God, then we need to be as little Children and to allow God to fill our conscious imagination, and in childlike trust follow the Way of Jesus
Week 4: Matthew 5:17-end
As we read further in the Sermon – perhaps you might take a moment again to orient yourself as a disciple towards Jesus who is seated – his mouth open, words proceeding from his mouth . . . cf Matthew 4:3-4. (See also John 6:63 – what does this suggest to you about the significance of the words of Jesus? And again Luke 6:46 which comes from ‘The Sermon on the Plain’)
Take time now to read again from where we left off at verse 16, to the remarkable culmination of the chapter. Bearing the overarching theme of our studies – learning God, or indeed as Paul puts it in Ephesians 5:1 ‘Therefore be imitators of God, as dearly loved children’ – what responses are evoked as you read these words? (You may wish to write them down.) How do your responses resonate or otherwise with what we thought about above, about Jesus’ words?
Last week, we briefly considered how Jesus sitting down, and the disciples standing as they listened, made clear the hierarchical dynamics. The one seated is the one in authority, over those standing (and a little playfully contrasted this with ‘listening to a sermon’ : – ) ). Are there differences between reading a text and hearing it read? Audibility problems aside, do you notice a difference with regards to our current situation where the text is not projected onto the screen in church? What is our physical position with regard to books we are reading? Is the physical position also in some respect placing us over, rather than under the authority of the words of Jesus?
As we shall see, Jesus says some very difficult things in these verses . . . do we simply say, ‘well of course these words would be different in a first century Palestinian context, and we have to reinterpret them for our times’, as I recently heard someone say of the teaching of Jesus regarding money?
Jesus starts out effectively reminding us of what some of us spoke a week or so ago. He comes to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, or The Old Testament. Put another way, He Is the fulfilment of all that was written (You might like to read John 5 vs 30- end for how this works out, especially form vs 39. Jesus suggests that if they really knew the Old Testament, they would respond positively towards him and acknowledge him for who he is) Jesus IS the Life of the Scriptures.
Then he says in v 20 a most extraordinary thing. We shall unwrap this in length as we move on, but for now, merely we note that the St Paul says he kept the Law faultlessly, Phil 3:6 (et seq). Jesus says the righteousness of the disciples must ‘exceed’ that of the S+P. (The word in Greek, helpfully has conotations of an ‘overflowing’ – does this help understand what he is saying?)
Jesus begins to reveal what this looks like as we listen on. What do you make of vs 21-end?
Note the repetitive phrase which comes over and over . . . you have heard it said but I say to you . . .
What is the Goal of all of this teaching? (Quite literally in that it is the last verse of this part of the teaching, which prefaces all that will follow) It is Very important to bear this in mind. This is Not teaching about ‘how to get on in life’, it is about Learning God and growing into his likeness. SO how do the teachings and being obedient to them reveal God? (Look back at last week, the notes on Salt and Light) Why are these not simply a set of difficult rules to follow?
Like ascending a mountain, keeping the goal in mind helps us to find our way. So to, if we lose sight of the goal, then these teachings can sound like highly irrelevant words. In order to comprehend them, we need to keep the goal in mind. It is the Telos, the End which enlightens the way. So Jesus who is the ‘Beginning AND the End’ of our humanity, embodies the Father as ‘The Son of God’, the One born of God coming into the world.
It is this which explains the ‘Other worldly’ aspect of the Sermon, which has led many who simply try and follow it as a set of ethical rules, to give up. They surmise it is ‘only the way we live in heaven’ Yet is not our prayer, your kingdom come on earth as in heaven? Is not Jesus the one from heaven come to earth? Again we miss the important point that God is ‘everywhere present and fills all things’, and that ‘all’ Jesus and those who follow him do ‘is reveal his glory’ 5:16
As we shall see next time, the whole question of where is God?; of the location within Creation of God; is given a surprising answer, or at least a surprise if we hadn’t taken on board the Law and the Prophets, beginning with the very first chapter of Genesis.