New Testament

Gospels and Acts of the Apostles

In what ways did Jesus change his followers’ understanding of the Law of Moses?

Jesus elaborated on the Jewish law by explaining that the spirit in which the law was obeyed was just as important as the act of obeying. Getting through the day without murdering someone is obeying the letter of the law. However, what about gossiping about someone? Getting through the day without having sex with the neighbor’s spouse is obeying the letter of the law. What about fantasizing about the neighbor’s spouse?

Jesus said, “ This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (The Message; Matthew 5:23–24)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also … ” (NRSV, Matthew 5:38–39)

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate you’re your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does—he give his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Most scholars contend that Jesus did not expect his followers to be doormats, nor did he set them up for failure by exacting upon them unattainable standards of conduct. Rather, Jesus’ intention was to challenge his followers’ view of the law. Jesus wanted his followers to align not only their actions, but their attitudes as well, with the law. In doing so, they would be whole and complete.


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