Matthew 5:38-48

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This section of the Sermon on the Mount is the climax of Jesus' reinterpretation of the law. The two themes of this section of Jesus' teaching are the law of retaliation and the law of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy. First some observations about the structure of this section in order to facilitate interiorization and being able to tell this by heart.

Once again this section on retaliation has two episodes composed of two periods. The first has the formula, "you have heard that it was said…but I say to you." The second is a series of examples of what this principle would mean in practice. There are three examples of non-retaliation; strike on the right cheek, anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, and anyone forces you to go one mile, go the second. The second period is about giving, giving to those who beg and not refusing anyone wants to borrow. If you outline those episodes, they are easy to remember.

The climax of this section of commentary on the Mosaic law is the reinterpretation of the tradition of loving the neighbor and hating the enemy. The first episode restates this and develops his reinterpretation—"love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"— in relation to being like God, "so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes His sun rise and sends rain." The second commentary is two rhetorical questions, "If you love those who love you, what reward you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" Again, a similar structure, "for if you love those/if you greet those, and do not even the tax collectors/do not even the Gentiles do the same." The climax of the entire section is then, "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."

A comment about this translation of the Greek word teleios, which is translated here as"perfect:" Teleios is related to the concept of the end. The teleios is the completion of something. Another translation of Jesus’ saying would be: "be mature, be grown-up, be complete, be a full adult, as your heavenly Father is complete, mature." The concept that underlies this word is not perfection as the fulfillment of an ideal but rather as the completion of a process of growth or completion. In this case Jesus is recommending the achievement of full maturity in the practice of God’s will. That is, the purpose of the law is that our actions would be completely conformed to God’s will and purpose.

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