The section of the Sermon on the Mount that we’ll hear Sunday begins with a series of six statements from Jesus that contain what scholars call “antitheses,” “oppositions,” or “contrasts.”
Each of the teachings follows the same basic pattern:
“You have heard that it was said… But I say to you…”
In these contrasts, Jesus takes on some of the most controversial -- and relevant to everyday life -- issues of his day:
Murder and anger.
Adultery and lust.
Oaths and public integrity.
What to make of our revenge in responding to evil doers.
Who to love, and how to treat one’s enemies.
These issues, of course, still are controversial and relevant in and of themselves. But what makes them even more controversial and relevant to our everyday lives is what Jesus does with them.
In each case, he states what the Law -- biblical teaching, or religion -- requires. He then raises the bar in one of two ways.
In some cases (murder/anger, adultery/lust, revenge/responding to evildoers), he agrees with the teaching but says for his followers, following the rule of the law is not good enough; they (we) must follow the spirit of the law.
In other cases (divorce, oath-taking public integrity, who to love) he raises the bar for his followers so high that the biblical commandment seems almost seems irrelevant… trumped by an even higher goal.
But in each case, Jesus wants to make it very clear that he has not come to abolish biblical teaching, but to “fulfill” it -- to fill it full, to complete it.
And -- as we hope to show in this and next Sunday’s sermons -- in each case, we are left breathless, staring at a bar set before us that is so high it’s impossible to clear.
At least on our own.
And that very well may be the point that Jesus is trying to make.