These two verses are how Matthew in his Gospel concludes Jesus’s famed “Sermon on the Mount” in chapters 5-6-7. And if you know how to read this line, and somehow were able to think like an ancient Jew on the side of that mountain where Jesus taught, you’d know this whole sermon is God taking a great big giant condemning swipe at the Jewish leaders of that day. “[N]ot as their teachers…” is a total “diss.”
The crowds could discern the Godly authority of Jesus… an authority long since passed from the Jewish “teachers of the law,” i.e. the rabbis, Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, and scribes. Jesus was openly attacking the Jewish leadership’s hypocrisy and arrogance, while describing God’s true groundwork for the Kingdom of Heaven. It was nothing like what the Jewish leaders were teaching, the way they were living, or the truth they were espousing. Power, pride, status, and control were what they craved.
My friend and blogger extraordinaire Brent Riggs says it this way: “They (the Jewish leaders) were a part of the system; the World. Christ said we are to be salt and light to the system, not be a part of it… They had denied the Word of God and established their own traditions, rules, and regulations. Christ reestablished the affirmation of His Word—God’s Word—alone.”
It is so easy to read the Sermon on the Mount in modern error, thinking it only a list of somewhat mysterious but otherwise rational directions for leading a “good life” before the world and in the company of other Christians. Do good, feed the hungry, help the poor, etc., is how we read it. To the Jews, Jesus’s words were shocking.
Where Jesus says something akin to, “You say this …; but I say this…,” He was severely criticizing what the Jews had done to “religion.” Jesus was presenting the new covenant of faith and strongly condemning their failure with the old covenant of the law. The Jews had missed God’s point of humility and instead built a nation of pride.
“Blessed are the meek… the poor in spirit …they will inherit the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3-10) is not just a Jesus shout-out to the oppressed; it is the harshest of rebukes toward the Jewish leaders’ priorities and values mirroring the world, not God.
Today’s favorite Bible verse for all who do not actually understand the Bible is a similarly condemning assertion that the modern world loves to self-righteously and incorrectly quote as a declaration of freedom. It’s right there in this sermon, Matthew 7:1. We all know it well: “Do not judge,” contemporary code for, “Get out of my face!”
Emphatically, it is not that. It was Jesus telling the Jewish leaders they had lost their authority to judge Godly things because they had assumed worldly values. The dumbest taunt you can level at any human is “Don’t judge!” and think it means, “Let me do whatever I want.” Bald permissiveness is the opposite of what Jesus was saying.
What I’m saying is, my New Year’s goal is to improve my judgment, not ignore it.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) notes that better judgment always starts with love. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.