International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday November 6, 2011
Purpose: To understand the connection between worship of God and reconciliation with neighbor
Scripture Text: Matthew 5:17-26
Matthew 5:17-26 (NRSV)
(17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. (18)For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (19)Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (20)For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
(21) “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ (22)But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.( 23)So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,(24)leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (25)Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. (26)Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
It is important to understand what Jesus was referring to in his reference to “the law” and “the prophets.” Jesus is referencing the Torah, the teaching of the first five books of the bible and the Nevi'im (the books of Prophetic Literature); those along with the Ketuvim (the Books of Writings) comprised all the scriptures used at the time of Christ.
Jesus is well aware that His Sermon on the Mount, to His disciples, would be controversial. What He taught was not the same as what those of old had taught, but that did not require abolishing the old teaching, but rather a new understanding. Since John declares Jesus as “The Word” it would be impossible for Jesus to abolish “the law” or God's word without denying Himself. Jesus, The Christ, is the fulfillment of both “the law” and “the prophets.” Jesus would not only clarify the old Mosaic Law, but He would also fulfill the prophecy of those that wrote of a coming Messiah. Jesus also declares that God's word would last for eternity. Everything declared would become reality.
Jesus teaches those that break, as well as do not teach, these commandments will be the least, while those that keep and teach these commandments “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” I think it is worth noting that those unable to keep and failing to teach, still seem to be allowed into the kingdom. Which contrast with the next phrase which is “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Torah taught a right relationship with both God and community, that right relationship is what we call “righteousness.” The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of teaching a self righteous law that was based on their self proclaimed righteousness. They were looking only vertical and not horizontal in their world. They had little concern for their fellow man and considered him unworthy of their time or concern. They declared themselves as the only ones worthy to have a relationship with God.
Anger is as destructive as murder when applied to our relationships, and notice that in verse 23 it is the person that has something against you, that you need to seek out and reconcile with before your offering is accepted. So many times we think it is reconciling with someone we offended, this passage does not say that, we, even though we are the one being cutoff, must go and be reconciled with that one that is holding the grudge. That behavior would certainly separate us from the scribes and Pharisees.
Forgiving and reconciling with each other is paramount to living a righteous life. Always remembering that God has gone to great lengths to reconcile with us, how can we except God's forgiveness and not extend it to our families, friends and community? When you get both the vertical (with God) and the horizontal (community) you create a cross, where we all meet, the picture is not complete until we forgive as we have been forgiven.