While replete with theological demands for life and moral requisites, very few passages in the Bible allow for open analysis of Jesus' own position in ethical politics. While the gospels proffer more opportunities for development, Matthew 3:38-45 is the crux of these keyholes into the structure of the Christ. Extolling followers to be like the flawless Christ, this lesson in enemies and love is the foundation of the Christian ethical ideal. In its corollaries to Hebrew texts and historical social mores, the message of radical non-retaliation and call for perfection demands thorough analysis of not only its strengths, but also the conflicts and textual keys that provide its ultimate opacity.
Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke provide illuminating insight into Jesus' teachings, most plainly through the Sermon the Plain in Luke and that of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Each draw upon the cultural norms of the Hebrew society and the biblical texts that supported them to transform ideologies of basic goodwill to a functioning wisdom of perfection and are based in the "cultural intertexture" that wove "personage, concept, and tradition" into a new ideal.
This reconfiguration of commonly held norms, like those of good equity and civic obedience, were the basis of an enhancement and "recontextualization" of accepted wisdom and practice for a new way, holy in the Christian world.
The central focus of this passage is to address the relationship of an individual with others, especially those in positions of opposition. The verses of Matthew: 38-48 are reminiscent of Luke 6:31, "Do to others as you would have them do unto you." The liturgical association with previous chapters is reiterated in the Hebrew book of Tobit, "And what you hate, do not do to anyone." (Tobit 4:15) The precept of goodwill is preeminent in both Christian and Jewish texts, emblematic of its acceptance as a permanent part of society. Addressing the troublesome enmity fracturing Hebrew society and the larger world, Christ submits a "Golden Rule" that, while harkening on ideas of the past, also submits a new ring of demand, loving both internally and externally not only one's friend, but also one's enemy. This serves, perhaps, as a means of trumpeting the role of goodwill in social calm, an ultimate end to the hatred that limns the contemporary world.
While the text of Matthew 5:38-48 is postured in its nascent form by the Hebrew texts and teachings, they continue to play a role of interaction throughout the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus' recitation of, "you have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" interlocks the legal statements purported in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. (Matthew 5:38) By adding, "Do not resists an evildoer," he submits new Torah, introducing new wisdom to the sound foundations already socially in place and culturally accepted. (Matthew 5:39)
As older voices continue to mingle with new, textual difficulties are born in the Sermon the Mount. While the Matthean text draws its strength from the Hebrew texts, the repetition of Jesus prepares the audience for addition; "You have heard it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'"(Matthew 5:43) While the first part of the verse comes directly from Leviticus 19:18, suggesting that the audience has been told to "hate" enemies is problematic. The HarperCollins Study Bible warns of this blatantly forward terminology.
The use of 'hate' is not scriptural, although it can be associated with the Hebrew text found in Psalm 139, "I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them with my enemies." Further research suggests too that while the word 'hate' is used more freely in reference throughout the Gospels, its place exists more in historic social reality than in the Hebrew Bible; the HCSB says that the communal ideology for enemy hatred is furthered by the Role of the Community evidenced in the Dead Seas Scrolls.
As is habit, Jesus reworks the association of the word 'hate' from either textual precedence of cultural proliferation throughout the Sermon on the Mount. He says that hating is not the road to righteousness; instead, it is the opposite of hate, love, that must be shown toward those viewed as enemies, "love enemies, and pray for those who persecute." (Matthew 5:44) Jesus uses this sermon and powerful texture to perpetuate the distinction between his words and the quotidian lives of those surrounding him; here again is an opportunity to reject the pedantic experiences of those unholy, wrapped in feelings of hate, and instead turn to a world uncouth in Hebrew society for the sake of an ideal.
As a formative piece of literature in the Christian faith, the theological power behind the Sermon on the Mount must be exhumed. While rejecting the mores of society, Christ faces both rejection and rebuff; to preclude the mystification understandable with his challenging statements, He is careful to provide rationale for his new line of teaching, "so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for He makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:45-47) By relating the act of hatred to the heathen limitations of earth and generous understanding to the boundless goodnesss of Heaven, Christ urges the base emotion of hate to be overthrown for the Godlike perfection of goodwill.
The wisdom of the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is riddled with the same thematic problems as the other Synoptic Gospels. Many academics, historians, and theologians associate the documents to a common source -- Q -- a proto-gospel augmented by eye-witness and tradition. As such, the audience of each gospel is particularly important to its analysis. The gospel of Matthew is most commonly associated with the Palestinian Jews, an important demographic to the growth of Christianity to whom the book may have been tailored, focusing on the fulfillment of Jesus' words and actions for Old Testament prophecies.
Unlike the rest of the Synoptic Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount poses particular piques. The single literary unit may not have been a coherent speech, and the Christian scholars who purport the message as a singular unit recognize that the crowd was probably ever-shifting and the sermon took hours to deliver. The Sermon is easily segregated into five key groupings: the Kingdom (5:1-16), spirit and intent of the Law (5:17-48), the nature of piety (6:1-18), materialism (6:19-34), and True discernment (7). While each of the themes draw in on each other, it is the section of Law that this passage reveals the political nature of Jesus.
Matthew 5: 38-48 gains both its power and problems and from its novel teachings about enemies and the righteousness demanded of those who might enter Heaven. In his seminal study of the verses, Walter Wink associates the idea of turning the other cheek to forms of early social resistance in First Century colonial Palestine.
Yet, Wink struggles with the translation of m' antisti'nai (Matthew 5:39) as inherently violent resistance. Guelich and Weaver insist that this resistance is not meant to be violent at all, but is instead constructed as a reproof of legal action.
Other scholars side with Weaver, Guelich, and Wink, questioning the very type of resistance it was Jesus exhorted as evil and so unrighteous it would preclude one's admission into the holy afterlife. While the debate continues without end, the resonance of the argument weighs heavier today than it has in the past. In an age of political polarization, when the people of America have left the middle for walls both left and right, each structural wing has been colored with associations that, while may be inaccurate, are unfading. While the left-wing, still led by convicted Christians at the helm of the political ship, counter the War in Iraq and proffer a domestic focus, the right-wing Republican party has been characterized as pro-war and amassed by the Christian vote.
Although reputations are only as accurate as the facts behind them, the reputation they create is equally as powerful without fact. If the Sermon on the Mount promotes non-retaliatory civics, where is the place for war in the Christian voter today? The Sermon on the Mount, accepted for its Golden Rule but ignored for its social convictions, is enough to make some theologians equate the Christ with the political revolutions so long rejected for their cultural disconnect. "We never hear him insisting on orthodoxy, on precedent, on customary opinion, or ancient authority," Samuel Dickey writes. "On the contrary, he did not hesitate to antagonize the highest authorities of his time, and even supplemented and corrected the Law itself. This man was no…