CMC Eps 19 – MATTHEW 5:17-26 – WHAT AND WHY




Hi.. I’m Gene Ort.. and you’re listening to the common man commentary..

This is podcast #19..  We will be looking at MATTHEW 5:17 through 26

The Title for this podcast is: “ What and Why ”

Part 1 is proclamation and Part 2 is explanation 

Part 1

““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-20 ESV

Part 2

““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 5:21-26 ESV

Jesus was a rule breaker .. at least as far as the religious leaders and political leaders of his time were concerned.  He was not cooperative. There was undoubtedly some of these people who were judging him as a rebel were saying that Jesus was not following God’s laws and he could not and should not be followed. They called him a heretic. Here is a basic definition : “Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs, in particular the accepted beliefs of a church or religious organization”

The first part of this passage seems to be a direct response to an accusation that he was indeed trying to abolish the law and the prophets. Most people would understand the law to mean the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on mount Sinai in the form of stone tablets. The “ thou shalt nots “

I can say I am sorry in advance for what is about to come. It’s tedious and nerdy, but it does set the stage in an important way, so please bare with me.

Here is the direct definition of what the law and prophets mean according to the Oxford dictionary : “ Two major divisions of the Old Testament. The Law, or Law of Moses, consists of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah in Hebrew and the Pentateuch in Greek. The Prophets consists of several books grouped into different arrangements according to Jewish or Christian tradition. The groupings include: (a) Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Kings; (b) Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; and (c) Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Here is one of those situations that I find intriguing. The actual words that Jesus uses point specifically to these Ten Commandments and yet, popular understanding wants to expand it to mean most if not all of the Old Testament or Hebrew bible as we know it.

There is no question as to whether or not Jesus knew and understood the Hebrew bible because he often quoted from it.  In this passage, He wants it to be perfectly clear that He not only knows these commandments but he is on a mission that will fulfill them. He is quite serious about it, issuing a warning to anyone who downplays them and great honor to anyone who does them and teaches others to do them. Emphasis on the doing part.  Then He recaps the idea with a startling statement which would have shocked the crowd and infuriated the religious leaders.

Quoting : “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Righteousness can be understood as “ rightness “ or “ in right standing “.. .. “ a state of being correct in thought and deed “. Here is the dictionaries definition of righteousness:  Righteousness is the quality or state of being morally correct and justifiable. It can be considered synonymous with “rightness” or being “upright”.

The Pharisees and scribes were seen as the elite religious superiors, the political authority and keepers of law and order. They were at the top. Extremely powerful, wealthy and well known. The very picture of power and influence. The tension caused by Jesus in telling the common people that they would be lost outside of heaven’s gates unless they were better than the scribes and Pharisees is difficult to exaggerate. It would sound ridiculous.  Which is a very interesting if not dangerous way to teach. You create tension through exaggeration in order to force the thoughtful question.   The “ what is he talking about “ question. 

Jesus knew that the common people looked up to these religious leaders as having arrived at perfection. They appeared morally perfect. They had wealth and fame as clear evidence. Surely they were being blessed by God and their lives were living proof of it. Or so it would seem. Sarcasm intended.

If the outward appearance of righteousness that everyone was seeing was not enough to get you into heaven, than what was the needed righteousness ? 

Jesus has flipped the standard of righteousness and in a very real way has left the people without a defining standard except that he has previously mentioned that “He” would somehow be the fulfillment of the law. This would have been heard as arrogant beyond measure, unless of course, it’s true. The whole thing would have been very unsettling.  

A little recap … Jesus says .. The law is good.. it’s not going anywhere. The people who are currently interpreting the law for you ..not so good. I am here to fix this disparity. 

Sometimes you have to break something in order to fix it. 

So far, Jesus is making proclamations.. albeit inflammatory. Now comes the clarification and explanation.   The rest of Matthew 5 starts breaking it down.. .. Jesus explains .. lets look at just two of the ideas..

““You have been taught, in the Ten Commandments, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. “

And.. ““You have been taught in the Ten Commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Everyone in Jesus hearing had been taught to obey the rules. 

At it’s bassist level, the Ten Commandments is a list.  Don’t do this, don’t do that.. and do this and do that.  But some how, the deeper meaning and understanding of the list got lost.

I remember hearing this as a child after asking “why” in response to being given instruction : “Because I told you to “  This statement demands blind obedience.

The Ten Commandments is a list of “ what’s”..  Jesus wants them to shift their understanding from “what to why“.

One of the things I do for a living is being a recording engineer. I was fascinated as a teen with anything to do with recording. I played musical instruments in rock bands and concert bands and orchestras but I was always drawn to microphones, speakers and those boxes with all of the knobs.  I consumed everything I could get my hands on in the way of books and magazines about audio gear and how to use it.  Yes, I am aware of how geeky that sounds.

That childhood curiosity became my career. Over the years, I found myself teaching other people what I had learned. I wrote articles that were published in magazines on specific ways to use different pieces of audio gear and taught classes occasionally. Once, when I was asked by a student what settings to use on a specific device I began to explain to him what was happening with the audio and what the device was intended to do …  he stopped me and said ,  “I don’t really want to know all that stuff, I just want to know how to turn the knobs. “.  I replied ..ok ..lift your hand up like this..  he did..  I said… position your thumb and fore finger like this … he did.. I said.. now squeeze the knob between your thumb and finger and rotate to the left and to the right …   you now know how to turn a knob. Lesson over.  The student was less than impressed with my sarcasm.   I have never forgotten that exchange because I think it applies to many areas of life.   I think Jesus was trying to teach the same kind of lesson. 

Jesus is not saying your actions and behaviors dont matter, but he is pointing to a much higher principle behind the actions.  The “why” question. 

I have heard this phrase for years : sin management. I think that apply describes the attitude of the religious leaders Jesus was addressing then and much of what is being taught in the religious community today.

It requires a great deal more energy to teach the “why” than it does the “what”. 

Jesus teaches principles most of the time, not dogma or rigid authoritarian lists of rules. Sometimes the absence of specifics is a bit unnerving. You want Him to just say plainly, just dont do this .. or dont do that.. and you’ll be fine. The disciples had similar complaints with Jesus about the matter. They asked him “ Why do you teach in parables ? “ see Matthew 13 “ 

The parables Jesus used to teach with contained the principles he wanted them to ponder and comprehend. They put the “why” in every story on display, for those who had ears to hear it. That in itself was a metaphor for describing people who were seeking and ready to learn.

Principles.. can be learned and taught..but have no real value until they are practiced..

Memorizing the list of the laws can only have value when the spirit behind the law is understood and put into practice and acted out in your life. It asks the question, What is your motive behind everything you do?

The word Motive is tied to the word motivation… it is the essence of why.

Jesus starts his re-teaching process with commandment number 6 : You shall not murder. This is pretty clear to us what it means but lets go to the dictionary to make sure we get it right. Murder is “The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. “ That seems pretty clear and I am betting his audience on the hillside that day could define it just as easily.   

Now Jesus agrees with that thought by saying …in essence ..”I know that you have been taught not to commit murder… but I am going to tell you that not ending someone’s life is not enough to fulfill the commandment, you cant even be angry with someone without being guilty of murder. 

“ Without getting silly about it, what do we think Jesus is talking about ? Are we talking about the anger resulting in someone not replacing the empty toilet paper roll, cutting in front of you in traffic, stealing your money or kidnapping your child ? To be fair, some manuscripts of the text include the words “ without cause “ but even with that inclusion, its a bit subjective.  

So what does Jesus say about it ?

He does get a little specific. He mentions carelessly calling someone an idiotic, a fool or stupid as being the equivalent of murder or what I have heard called mouth murder.  Jesus is indicating “words kill “.

Ask any psychologist or mental health therapist if there is any truth to that and you will hear a resounding yes !

Our world is literally filled with the walking wounded resulting from the weaponized words received into our souls. 

To be completely truthful, when I began to see this mental health message coming from Jesus I was caught off guard. 

Jesus is conducting group therapy on the hillside outside Capernaum. I had heard of him being called our “wonderful counselor” but I never thought of it in this way. 

My religiously trained ears heard :  dont shoot anybody .. check …I can do that ..

My human ears had not been fully engaged to hear the deeper meaning..

Revelation : I am both the murderer and the murdered. The victimizer and the victim.

The standard has been raised.. what it means to be really human has been elevated.

Then Jesus addresses command number seven : You shall not commit adultery.   Another biggy …dont have sex with somebody else’s spouse. This seems pretty straight forward.. Keep your pants or skirts on and you’re good to go.   Check … I can do that …. and then … Jesus says this : everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

Presuming we understood the previous discussion about murder and its deeper meaning, we can pretty quickly assume that Jesus wants to do something similar here. But what ? He does not specifically say.  We are left to apply the same principle. But what is the principle ?

If anger was the true driving force or motive behind murder.. than what is the real driving force behind adultery ?

I think the question can be looked at in the same way… who is being hurt by it ?

I’m guessing everyone… It’s pretty easy to see the impact of betrayal in the act of adultery. What might be harder is to see the impact of the lustful look.

As a young man raised in the sixties, looking lustfully at girls was the expected norm. It was the male right and not to be resisted. I dont think a lot has changed in our culture today. Pornography has reached an all time high. I cant speak for woman but I have been told that porn is no longer just a man’s issue. From tv and movie content available, women seem to be less embarrassed now about their own lustful attraction of men.

A number of years ago i was introduced to a new word : misogyny ..  also known as the hatred of women. As I studied this mysterious word, I was struck by something they said in describing the characteristics of misogyny. The use of pornography was listed as evidence of misogynistic behavior. I thought, that cant be right, pornography is more like the worship of women. My understanding was quickly corrected and my perspective forever shifted. 

Pornography is objectification. It is de-humanization. The air sucked out of the room for me. 

I think that is a little of what it must have been like that day on the hillside when Jesus spoke these words.

There culture was patriarchal. Completely male dominated. Women were treated as objects and possessions.

In a few minutes of time, Jesus addresses two of the greatest evils effecting humanity.

They are both diseases of the human heart and mind. They are a prison of wrong thinking and wrong understanding. A prison Jesus came to release us from.

This revelation message on the hillside was in many ways just the beginning of the mission to rescue humanity from it’s de-humanizing insanity.

Hopefully we will never look at the Ten Commandments the same way again.

Well thats enough to think about for now..

Until next time ..  I am Gene Ort and Thank you for listening to the common man commentary. 

I’D LIKE TO LEAVE YOU WITH This “ blessing :

Love God. Love Yourself. Love the next person He puts in front of you.