It’s comfortable to live in a black and white world, but even with that there are shades of grey that provide definition. We tend to see good and bad, friend and enemy, liberal and conservative as opposites, like black and white. In our hearts we know differently.
I tend away from favorites. Last week a friend asked what my favorite Beatles song was, I had no answer. I can’t say my favorite food or wine or beer, it depends on the moment. I try to appreciate all the facets of the things I enjoy, and by looking at life in that manner, I often find facets that are positive in things I don’t generally like.
The fifth chapter of Matthew illustrates this point. Matthew is my favorite book of the Bible, and this is one of my favorite chapters, because it contains so many of my favorite verses. It is part of what is commonly referred to as “The sermon on the mount” (along with chapters six and seven). I’m going to work from this chapter today, not in linear order but by cross referencing the verses.
I want to start near the end, the summation of this lesson, verses 43 and 44, what I believe is the center of Christ’s teachings. “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”
In these verses, it is clearly stated “That was then, this is now”, “Love everyone”, and “What matters is not who loves you, but who you love”.
Reinforcing this is verse 45, “45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
From this I take that our Earthly existence is as equals. The sun shines and the rain falls on all of us. Illnesses and disasters are not punishments from God, “Good fortune” is not his reward. These things are only elements of life, how we deal with them will be the measure by which God judges us after this life.
The remaining verses of the chapter explain once again the logic of the lesson, “46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Two translations here. “Publicans” were the tax collectors, “Perfect” is taken to mean “Complete”. Other Biblical translations use different words in those places, this is the King James Version, which I always use to remain consistent throughout my writing.
The chapter had started by addressing the crowd, and identifying them as special. Not as a crowd, but as individuals, various shades of grey. The verses (two through eleven) that begin with “Blessed are the…” are in this section.
The next section (verses twelve through sixteen) speaks his message, starting with “12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” In simplest terms, your reward is not on Earth, but in heaven. He also states that the message is to be shared, by remaining true to the virtues of the lesson “15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Then, he separates the Old Testament from the New. Not by destroying the old, but by fulfilling the prophecies of a new teacher. “17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” This is important to reflect upon. Many people reject the Bible because they say it contradicts itself. Jesus is merely fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, refining the message for a “modern” audience.
The next part includes what I interpret as the quality of mercy, “19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Failing to be “perfect” may not mean failure to enter heaven. But it should not be considered a good thing to see how much you can get away with.
This is followed by several verses giving thought to the concepts of responsibility, forgiveness, and shades of grey. Some of the most misunderstood verses are these “31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The example here is about the responsibility of the male. When you cast away someone who has not done you harm, their reaction is your responsibility.
He finishes with a message about charity. “42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” I justify my lack of absolute adherence to this teaching by saying “I can only give so much”, but the message is we are not to determine need, but give when asked. Today, we are so overwhelmed by need that we can pick and choose to whom we give, That should not prevent us from giving freely. You will be taken advantage of, your charity will be abused, but God isn’t interested in that. In the final measure, you will be judged by your charity. Those that abused your charity will be judged for their actions. Taken with verses 31 and 32, abusing charity prevents those with need from receiving charity.
If you interpret the Bible with love in your heart, it is easy to see the love in the messages. If you do not have love within you, you will not understand, you will interpret the verses to suit your desires. This is the message of earlier verses, “23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.” Read that as a parable, you do not know the number of your days, or when you may face judgement.
You are not expected to be without flaw, you are expected to do your best despite your flaws.