In yesterday’s post, we looked at Jesus’ confronting command, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). Is Jesus calling us to do the impossible? And what did he mean by saying that he’d come to “fulfill” the law (5:17)?
Hopefully, when you read 5:21-32 you started to see a pattern. Each time Jesus quotes an Old Testament commandment and, in a sense, “raises the bar.” The law says “You shall not murder.” But Jesus says don’t even indulge in the attitudes that lead to murder: hatred and anger. He looks beyond the letter of the law, and brings out the intent of the law. Murder is simply the (extreme) outward expression of hatred and anger. So to obey the spirit of the law, rather than just the letter, Jesus calls those in the kingdom to regulate not just their outward behaviour, but their inward thoughts and emotions.
Similarly, Jesus goes beyond the outward action of “You shall not commit adultery” and tells those who would follow him not even to look lustfully. And he gives a rather graphic description of the lengths one should go to, in order to avoid such lustful looks. Jesus is exaggerating to show the seriousness of it, because in reality it’s not the eyes or hands (though they are involved) but the mind that sins.