I have been reading through the book of Matthew, getting reacquainted with the gospel stories and contemplating Jesus’ life and words…of which there are many. Matthew 5 is nearly all red-type, and includes some of the more well-known passages like the Beatitudes, the command to be Salt and Light, and the commands to turn the other cheek and love one’s enemies. But then, sandwiched in between there are passages on the Law and the Prophets, Concerning Anger, Adultery, Divorce, and Oaths.
Jesus comes down pretty had on those who break the commandments (they will be called “least of these in heaven”), those who anger (“your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison”), those who look at a woman with lust in their hearts (“…if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than to go into hell”), and on those who divorce their wives except on the account of unchastity (“you cause her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”).
It seems incongruous perhaps for these “do nots” and these harsh words to come behind the Beatitudes and the commands to be salt and light, but if we look closer, Jesus’ words are just as serious and severe when it comes to the commands that follow, the commands to turn the other cheek (“if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your oat, give your cloak as well”) , and to love one’s enemies (“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”).
While I was rather puzzled and astounded to at first find all these varied commands standing together, I find it insightful that these commands to live differently than those around us (Beatitudes, Salt and Light, Concerning Law and Prophets, Anger, Adultery, Divorce, and Oaths), are followed by the commands to love differently (Concerning Retaliation, Love for Enemies), as well.
Of course, when Jesus “sums this all up” (I’m aware that this is only the point at which the chapter is punctuated, not where the speech ends, but for my purposes…) with “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” I’m not sure whether to roll on the floor laughing or throw my hands up in exasperation. What kind of a command is that?!
And then I sit there in awe, because I’m still thankful that all these commands stand next to one another in Matthew 5, reminding us how perfect, unique, and puzzling Jesus’ life and ministry was, and not merely that we are called to be like him, but that we are called to love with the perfect kind of love he never failed to give. And may we all love with such abandon, turning the other cheek, extending that love to enemies, so that when we fail to do, someone else may find the grace to pick up right where we left off.