Cast Away Your Hardened Hearts


It has been called "The Ethic of the Kingdom" and "The Expression of the Mind of Christ".  Unlike many of Jesus' teachings which are shrouded in parables and hard sayings, the standards enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount are clear and simple. 

But try to live by them and see how hard they really are.  Turn the other cheek?  Sounds good, but when somebody bowls you over on the way to self-glory, feel the emotions bubble up and tell me it's easy to pray for him.  Or try averting your eyes when some young thing clad in a couple of terry cloths wiggles past on the beach.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the thought is simple, but the application is hard.  Though everything Jesus taught was consistent with the spirit of Old Testament law, the people who heard him were astonished at his teaching, for there was an authority in what he said that never seemed to ring from the other teachers of the day (Matthew 7:28-29).  They failed to apply the law in the way God had intended, as a few examples will illustrate.

"You have heard that it has been said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" (Matthew 5:43). 

While it is true that the Torah teaches "You shall love your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:18), it nowhere says to hate your enemy.  That last bit of convenience the teachers of the Law added on their own.

"You have heard that it has been said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'"  (Matthew 5:38).  This is a quote from Leviticus 24 and Exodus 21, where it is stated in the context of restitution.  If something I do causes you to lose property or health, it is my responsibility to compensate you for your losses.  That concept of liability has found its way into our legal system.  But to the lawyers of Jesus' day the eye for an eye concept morphed into an excuse to exact vengeance (which unfortunately has also found its way into our system in the form of punitive damages).  Jesus' teaching was intended to yank people back to the original intent of restitution rather than retribution.  That's why he taught to turn the other cheek and to love one's enemies.

Here is another one:  "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell."  (Matthew 5:29-30)

This saying gets to the heart of the matter.  The Pharisees believed that if one's eyes fell upon a young nubile, it was the eye's fault.  Therefore they diverted their eyes.  Jesus was pointing out that if the eye is the problem, why not just pluck out the eye?  But the eye or the hand is not the problem:  the heart is the problem, and it should be our hard hearts that are cut out and cast away.

Lenny Cacchio

Excerpted from The Sabbath Morning Companion, July 26, 2003, by Lenny Cacchio. 
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