Matthew 5:13–48; Luke 6:27–36
When Jesus referred to his disciples as salt and light, the significance was not lost on them. They used salt to purify (Exod. 30:35; 2 Kings 2:19–22; Ezek. 16:4); thus, its ancient connotation symbolized purity and wisdom. Likewise, the Dead Sea Scrolls speak of “the children of light” who were on the side of God (1QS 2.3; 3.3.19–21). These two metaphors aren’t just representative of who Christians are but how their works were to be (Matt. 5:16). The works that demonstrate a Christian is acting as salt and light are partly given in Matthew 25:32–46.
A common belief about Jesus was that he would abolish the law (Acts 6:14), so Matthew highlights that this wasn’t his intention, so much so that the most minute portions of the law would go unaltered. The jot is the Hebrew yod; it looks like an apostrophe. The tittle is even smaller but can change the entirety of the word, as seen in the differences between resh and dalet of the Hebrew alphabet.
No matter how minor a command seems, it’s still to be kept, and no one should ever minimize any law (cf. James 2:10).
Highlighting what is said from this point onward, Jesus urges that his disciples behave more righteously than the scribes and Pharisees, known for being righteous. The first issue is murder: when committed, the Jewish court could judge the wrongdoer (Deut. 16:18; 21:1–9). Judgment can come to one who’s angry without cause (cf. 1 John 3:15). Insulting another was a legal offense, and the Jewish court could excommunicate a person for insulting a teacher (b. Ber. 19a). The progression is interesting: angry without cause = judgment; calling one “half whit” = council (Sanhedrin); calling one a “fool” = hell. Why, though? The type of anger here is long-lived and brooding over imagined or real injustices. This isn’t the type of anger that flares up and dissipates. Another term is used for the latter instead of what’s used here. In Jewish society, name-calling was a severe offense. Names indicate a person’s character or praise of God in some way, so to refer to someone as a half-whit or fool was to strip away the person’s significance by removing their name. Before offering a gift, something that might allude to Cain and Abel, God required reconciliation.
Once more, going beyond the command, disciples are to avoid lust since it is as equal to adultery as the physical act. From here, Jesus doesn’t command self-mutilation but is speaking in hyperbole. Whatever it is that leads to the temptation should be severed. Finally, Jesus’ commands about divorce and remarriage were stricter than in most branches of Judaism at the time. The reason one may divorce is porneias. As the Old Testament used it, the related term was translated as “playing the whore.” In this case, let’s note a few things:
- “Divorce” then was an exclusively religious act. In our time and culture, it is a civil action. When two people divorce today, they are unbinding themselves legally. Then, when a man gave his wife a divorce certificate, he said that he would no longer be responsible for caring for her, thus leaving her destitute if she didn’t have an adequate support system. People may legally divorce today, but the marriage has not dissolved in God’s eyes except for the condition Jesus attaches to it (Matt. 19:1–9).
- If a man divorces his wife for “playing the whore,” anyone who marries her commits adultery. Mind you: this isn’t limited to cheating. It can imply prostitution, incest, and other sexual sins, as Scripture defines.
Oaths, retaliation, and resistance are forbidden. Roman soldiers could compel anyone to do something for up to a mile, but to go the extra mile demonstrates non-resistance. We’re also not to withhold but give, and we should love differently. Our love should extend to even those we would instead not love, as God loves all people.