Often we will read in the newspaper or see on the TV news about a road-rage killing or some other situation in which anger gets out of control and leads to a homicide. For example, a woman is attacked, her attacker was consumed with anger or lust, and then her husband, as a result, could not forget the event; he could only think of taking revenge on the attacker. Cities occasionally have road-rage shootings that shut down interstates. One of the reasons that the TV program Revenge is popular is because we are all tempted in this area. Anger can lead to many dire consequences, death among them. Pent-up rage may lead to heart attacks, strokes, or other illnesses—mental or psychological.
Anger, in many forms is one of the largest problems in our world, and it can lead to death. Often even the best of Christians can get angry at other persons or at situations. If it is not dealt with properly, anger can become consuming. Maybe if you have a problem with anger, or don’t even know you do, these verses from the first gospel will help you. Also, it would be odd in the extreme for people to focus on the gospel of redemption and not also see that the gospel penetrates to the heart of anger.
We have seen how Jesus was in harmony, not collision, with God’s Law. Yet he remained in utter contradistinction to Pharisees interpretation of God’s Law. Over the next 27 verses, Jesus gives six examples of this perspective. Each has a distinctive form: “You have heard it said . . . But, I say.” The phrase “You have heard it said” refers to the Scribes’ interpretations of the law. The religious experts of the day focused more on their oral tradition than on what was written, namely Old Testament quotations. The written law was fairly simple; however, the Scribes developed another layer of interpretation over the written law. Their words had become virtually on par with God’s law. In so doing, the Scribes had over-extended the law by implications and deductions to cover every possible situation.
For example, the fourth commandment said the Sabbath is to be kept Holy and no work done on it. Scribes forgot why God said this and instead went to great extremes to define work. Thus they classified the following as work: to carry food weighing as much as a fig, enough honey to put on a wound, enough oil to anoint, eye salve or enough ink to write two letters of the alphabet. Endless hours were spent deciding whether a man could lift a lamp from one place to another on the Sabbath or whether a tailor committed a sin if he went out with a needle in his robe, and whether a man could lift his child on the Sabbath: these were burning questions.
On and on they went with their choking religion of legalism, missing the whole point and use of the Law. The problem was that they tried to make the law do something for which it never was intended. The law was not intended by God to be either an agent of justification nor a casebook of petty guidelines. Rather, it was given as a guide for believers to seek God’s will. The Scribes enlarged the 613 commandments into the Mishnah (by 250 A.D.), which expanded to hundreds of pages. Then the commentary on the Mishnah (called Talmud) was written, expanding up to 60 printed volumes. They had stretched or enlarged the law beyond its intended scope. It had become a beast, a killer, and it is against this that Jesus stands. “You’ve heard it said,” then, refers to one of the oral scribal traditions found in these over 60 volumes.