Matthew 5:27-37

Readings:

Matthew 5:27-30
Matthew 5:31-32
Matthew 5:33-37

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 5:27-30

In this teaching, Jesus addresses adultery. As we read this and the following passage on divorce, the tone might strike us as archaic or even offensive—it is “andocentric language [which] reflects a society in which male concerns dominate and in which marriage is commonly patriarchal.”1 Matthew no doubt lived in a different world—a heavily patriarchal one—and we need to keep in mind that this Gospel is a product of its culture. As we read, then, we need to ask questions of the cultural assumptions the Gospel carries so as not to uncritically accept unhelpful or even unjust assumptions.

At the same time, we might also see how Matthew’s Gospel is very counter-cultural. Jesus’ teaching here goes against views expressed in wisdom literature (e.g. Prov 2:16-19) and later rabbinical teaching concerning adultery which saw women as the problem. According to such teaching, “women were regarded as known occasions of sins and a danger to the devout male… By contrast, Jesus [speaking to male disciples] does not warn his disciples about women but about themselves.”2

Jesus’ teaching goes right to the heart. His (male) disciples are not to look upon women as objects for their gratification. This is all the more serious given the difference in power between men and women in Matthew’s world. In a patriarchal world, women were not to be dehumanised—seen as less than fully human by their male counterparts. Rather, women and men together are made in God’s image, with all the wonder and potential that that entails.

The “transformative initiative” here (which sounds more de-formative!) is no doubt an extreme way of speaking, but we need to be careful to hear it in its context. Rather than eternal otherworldly punishment, it is likely that Jesus is here talking about what people knew and experienced. “Loss of eyes was a well-known punishment for sexual misbehavior, and loss of a hand was a punishment for theft, including stealing another person’s wife.3 Moreover, Gehenna, usually translated as “hell,” was  “the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem… By the time of Jesus, the valley had become a garbage dump, where the dead bodies of criminals were also being disposed.”4 It may be that Jesus envisages the bodies of adulterers, who by law would be stoned to death (Deut 22:22), being dumped in the valley. In this way he is speaking not as a threat, but as a warning of the normal, cultural consequences of adultery. Gehenna was also used to speak figuratively of God’s judgement. Whatever Jesus had in mind, his words, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out…” drive home the seriousness of reducing women to less than all God made them to be.

Reflect:

  • What strikes you in this reading? If possible, share different perspectives of male and female.
  • In what ways does this reading challenge you? Share with the group or with a partner.

Pray for one another

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1. Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, (Maryknoll, Orbis: 2000),146.

2. David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 67.

3. Ben Witherington III. Matthew (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 133.

4. Dimitris J. Kyrtatas, “The Origins of Christian Hell,” Numen 56 (2009): 283-284.

 

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 5:31-32

As with yesterday’s reading, todays must be heard in the heavily patriarchal culture from which it came. Again, Jesus’ teaching is directed toward male disciples about their treatment of their wives—there is no command to women as if they have any voice in the practice of divorce. Moreover, that “anyone who divorces his wife… causes her to commit adultery” presumes that a divorced woman has no choice but to flee to the arms of another man. No doubt this reflects the economic vulnerability of women in the first century world. Perhaps the first questions we should ask of today’s text, then, is, “What systems force women to rely on men?” or “How might we live out gender relations so that all people have the freedom to be all that they are created to be?”

In our world, we might read Jesus’ seemingly strict stance on divorce as legalistic or even destructive—indeed, tragically, it has been used by partners and even church leaders to compel women to remain in abusive relationships. But in Matthew’s patriarchal world, it was a teaching which called men to honour their marital commitments when it was too easy for them to do otherwise.

Reflect:

  • In what ways do you see life-giving gender relations in your neighbourhood?
  • In what ways do you see destructive gender relations in your neighbourhood?
  • What does today’s reading challenge or encourage you in the ways you relate to others?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 5:33-37

In this teaching on the practice of making oaths, Jesus teaches his disciples to simply “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.’” While this teaching may seem like a simple command be “be honest,” it has been held by some followers of Jesus, such as the Anabaptists, of such high importance that people have died in order to uphold it. Menno Simons, a sixteenth century Anabaptist, writes:

“That yea is Amen with all true Christians is sufficiently shown by those who in our Netherlands are so tyrannically visited with imprisonment, confiscation, and torture; with fire, the stake, and the sword; while with one word they could escape all these if they would but break their yea and nay. But since they are born of the truth, therefore they walk in the truth, and testify to the truth unto death, as may be abundantly seen in Flanders, Brabant, Holland, West Freisland, etc.”5

In Matthew’s world, oaths were commonly used in “swearing loyalty to a city or public appointments; to the judicial system and business contracts; to memberships in clubs, associations, or guilds; for religious activities, and so on.”6 Perhaps at the root of the problem here is a sense of pride—an imagining that we can control events, that we are more powerful than we actually are. We should not be self-deceived, says Jesus, into thinking that we are more powerful than we actually are—we cannot even control the colour or our own hair (naturally anyway!). Let us talk authentically, with a humble estimation of our own limits. Let us know that we are human, and God is God. Those with power characteristically get caught up in inflated ideas of their own ability to control people and events.

Reflect:

  • How do you think these words might apply to your context?
  • What challenges do you hear in today’s reading?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

5. Cited in Warren S. Kissenger, The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography,  (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press), 33-34.

6. Carter, Matthew and the Margins, 149.

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Spirituality

Read: Psalm 42:1-11

Ask: How might we give space to hear God’s voice this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer