The words of Jesus have been so important to me through my life. In particular, the Sermon on the Mount has been something I have strived to live by. Recently, as I have been reading through it again, I began to see how much hyperbole Jesus used. Obviously we should not be cutting off our own hands. Praying in an inner room? Should I not also pray with my brothers and sisters? Should I be using cloak and dagger behavior when giving? “God, I need to know what is hyperbole and what is literal.” I asked. “I need to know how to obey you. I need to know the exact rules.” And God conveyed to me that He was not about to give me that information. I was looking for information that would allow me to be Pharisaical in keeping the Law. “I want to change your heart, not give you a checklist.” Was basically what God was conveying.
Look at the big picture. When God approached Abram, humanity was brutal and uncivilized. There was no rule of law, only the rule of power. The “power of the sword” was the only power that mattered. God told Abram, there is something bigger and better, all I ask is that you trust me. After a few generations of learning to trust, this primitive people was given the rule of Law. The Law was harsh, draconian even, but within these laws was the spirit of what God had in mind for people. It was far better than what had been known under “strongest guy does what he wants.” It gave people rights they had never had under the sword, responsibilities towards their fellow humans, protections for the weak, and a sense of belonging to God. After many generations of learning to be civilized under the law and learning to trust and love only God under the suffering of conquest, Jesus arrived. He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill. He taught that God wants hearts, not just actions. He wants hearts that love and do not hate. Murder is an outpouring of hate, but so are words. Have a heart of love. God gave women protection through the Law from capriciousness of their husbands wantonly divorcing and remarrying them as their whims should carry them, but God wants you to love and be faithful to your wife in your heart as well. All your words should be truthful, for God loves truth, not just words you preface with an oath. Help people and serve others from your heart of love, not for a reward of admiration. God wants your heart. This was contained in the old Law, but a primitive and brutal people were not ready for it. God meets people where they are and the ancients were led to something better under the Law. But Jesus wants to lead us to the fulfillment of the Law- a Law of love.
And so God did not want me to go backwards, looking into Jesus’ teaching for a Pharisaical code to follow. He wants me to go forwards, looking into Jesus for the Heart-Changer to follow.
Author’s note: I am in no way implying that the teachings of Jesus are unimportant or that moral behavior is not a part of the Kingdom of God.