The Sixth Commandment, Pt. 2

This is the second part of the Sixth Commandment taken from the book Ten Essential Words.


As an example of how these commandments related to the kingdom of God, Jesus expounds on this Sixth Commandment prohibiting murder:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  (Matthew 5:21-22)

“You know the commandment,” Jesus begins, “and you know the penalty.”  The Sixth Commandment had been fairly clear up to this point, and everyone would have been familiar with it.  My guess is that Jesus even chooses the most straightforward commandment to make his point.  For it is his next statement that would be initially difficult to comprehend, “I tell you that anyone who has ever been angry is guilty.”  Forget the actual act of murder, forget intent and premeditation; anyone who has been angry with another person has violated this commandment.  Let me ask you a question: have you ever been angry with someone?  Ever?  Yep, me too!  According to that statement by Jesus, we are all guilty – and that is exactly the point Jesus is trying to make.

As has previously been suggested, debates around issues of interpretation of the Law were common at that time.  Different rabbinic interpretations had arisen over the extent of each commandment and what constituted breaking each commandment.  Arguments arose over the enforcement of these commandments, given Roman jurisdiction and Rome‘s own set of legal codes.  As can be the case today, the common person often got caught in the crossfire of many of these philosophical debates.  So Jesus took this opportunity to remind everyone of what was being lost in the midst of these debates: there was a difference between the legal enforcement of the commandments and the moral underpinnings of each commandment.  God was ultimately concerned with the moral underpinnings – the righteousness – underlying each commandment, and that is what would be important in God’s kingdom, regardless of who had legal jurisdiction over Judea at the time.

Jesus was making clear that most of these debates focused only on the external enforcement of the law, while overlooking the core of each commandment.  At their core, these were God’s standards for righteousness.  And when we peel away the external conformity of the commandments to the core, therein lies the problem: we are all guilty.  This would be a common theme as Jesus continued to unpack the Law in the Sermon on the Mount.


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