By: Dennis Bates
Have you ever heard someone say, “He/she just doesn’t get it”? I heard someone say it just yesterday when they told me how many times they had tried to explain something to a store clerk only to get blank stares back in return. We often use that phrase lightly to poke fun at someone who doesn’t seem to get the point of something.
In modern day terms that’s what Jesus said to the crowds that listened to Him hand down the verses most of us know as the Sermon on the Mount starting in the fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew and ending in the seventh chapter. Interestingly enough those verses are a call to action, not an apologetic for simple grace that requires nothing out of us but equally simple faith. Furthermore, they do not wipe the Old Testament Law off the books, they do just the opposite.
Jesus said specifically in chapter 5 verse 17 that He did not come to abolish the Law of the Prophets, but to fulfill it. Fulfillment in this case means He came to complete it and make its meaning obvious. Why did He need to do that? Because even the people who were religious in those days just didn’t get it, especially the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They taught the words of the law, but they didn’t teach its meaning.
Jesus equated murder with anger for a brother; he said looking at a woman lustfully was a type of adultery, and a man who divorced his wife caused her to commit adultery. It wasn’t a condemnation of the wife nearly as much as it was the man whose lack of love allowed it to happen. He said oaths of any kind were wrong and unnecessary and advised people to let their yes be yes and their no be no.
He advised people to turn the other cheek and love their enemies rather than hate them, and said true charity was done in private, not in the open so others could see what a good person you were. Jesus told those on the hillsides not to worry about their needs, but trust that they would be provided for and ask so that they might receive.
He said the entire Law and the Prophets could be summed up quite simply in the words many of us call The Golden Rule, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you.” Think about how simple that statement is and how deep it runs.
Jesus is saying, “Don’t ask me whether this is adultery or that isn’t. Don’t try to split hairs and get me to justify killing in one case, but not in another. Don’t do any of that because the fact that you ask the question is ample proof that you just don’t get it. It’s not about what you can and cannot get away with to stay within the rules. It’s not even about the rules themselves.
You only get it, and you only understand the Law, when you realize that everything you do…everything… should be done out of love. The Law was not established to get around, but to follow, and the real Law is not the specifics of the Commandments but the love that generated them in the first place…the love of God, who is the Love.
But even understanding that intellectually isn’t enough to “get it.” As chapter 7, verse 24 indicates, we must hear the words of the Sermon on the Mount and put them into practice if we want our house to stand. Hearing coupled with doing is the solid foundation. When we hear what Jesus really said and put that into practice, we get it.