Bonhoeffer :: The Brother

Matt 5:21-26 21"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' 22But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. 23Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

We saw last time that Jesus was to be the fulfillment of the Old Law, His sacrifice would end it as a contract between God and Man. We are now no longer under the Old Law. But Jesus, as we read, does not say that God doesn’t care any longer about our actions and our behavior. Jesus tells the disciples that their righteousness has to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, the noted keepers of the Law.

Jesus now begins a series of statements that will explain what righteousness will look like in the life of the believer. Just the structure of these statements is extraordinary; Jesus is claiming primacy over the Law. On his own authority Jesus is explaining to the disciples what they must do, what a life of obedient discipleship will look like.

“You have heard that it was said”. Jesus quotes the Law and it obligation. But now he announces the new Law. What is the difference between the Old and the New? Why could not God be satisfied with the old standards of behavior?

The Old Law was aimed at controlling a behavior: “Thou shalt not kill”. The New Law is aimed and expressed in a different way. To be angry with your brother is to risk judgement, to call him a fool is to risk damnation. Jesus here is elucidating something rather deeper than preventing undesirable behavior. Jesus doesn’t intend to be content with legislating our actions; he wants changed hearts. Jesus isn’t telling us to control our hate, he is demanding that we wholly abandon it and see others as he does.

Now I don’t think God ever meant to say “you can do anything you want so long as you stop short of murder.” All along God has desired true righteousness and a true heart that desires to do his will. Now, however, God is announcing that he won’t take us any other way. It is not good enough any longer to merely “follow the rules”. God now requires a higher standard of behavior, righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees.

In this context it is interesting to consider Christians’ attitude towards the law. Too many times Law is presented as a “higher standard”, whether it is the keeping of the Old Law that is urged or new rules that we invent ourselves. From this point of view, Christians who keep a lot of Rules are more faithful, more righteous than Christians who do not. From the Biblical point, this is simply not true. Please don’t misunderstand me, I do not say that making a rule in the life of a Christian is wrong. Any attempt to hold the Old Law up as a standard, however, or to impose righteousness through a set of regulations represents a retreat from the life that Jesus calls us to. The law is not a “higher standard”, it is the easy way out.

There is one other thing that interests me about what Jesus says. My wronged brother stands between God and me. Jesus’ advice is that if as I begin my worship of God, I remember a brother I have wronged I, I should stop what I am doing and go make it right with him. In the Bible study I have been having with some of the college age kids here, we have just started talking about the different streams of historic and current Christian though: Anabaptism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and contemporary Evangelicalism. Anabaptists have long appreciated the thought Jesus expresses here: Discipleship is not a solitary occupation. Integral to my relationship to God is my relationship to my Brother. Do you see the person you are sitting next to as a part of your relationship with God?

Jesus called his disciples to form a new community, to follow him together. Now he is telling them that mutual love is so important that its lack indicates a lack of love for God. John says it best perhaps:

1 John 4:20-21
20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if he does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And we have this commandment from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

Jesus is calling us from the hillside to a new and radical way. Are you content to be estranged from your brother or sister as long as there is no open conflict? Jesus calls you to a different way. Do you tend to see the Christian life mainly from the perspective of regulation? Jesus calls you to a higher standard. This call is as challenging to us today as it must have been to the disciples 2000 years ago. But it is by grace, the grace of God that is extended despite ourselves and our flaws, that the call is still open to us. Will you be a disciple?