Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 11

How can we survive without litigation?

By this point the hearers are realising that Jesus is absolutely serious about no violence and no litigation, and no doing wrong on the justification of ‘righting’ the wrongs of others. All manner of objections naturally suggest themselves. But what about this and what about that? Surely there are some evils that cannot be tolerated and must be avenged in a regulated manner? Surely there are some laws that must be enforced.
Jesus responds to these concerns as follows:
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Mat 6:25-34)

This text, so often used to address worry in general, is clearly directed squarely at financial (and social order) worry associated with the prohibition on civil litigation, debt enforcement and law enforcement. Jesus is wise enough to know that we do not need to know how a world without us using wrongdoing will work for our purity to make us happy and make the world a better place. He is recognising that social order is dynamic, and that there are myriad solutions for every social and technological and commercial problem. How they are discovered and applied are not matters of his law. His law is to prohibit the use of wrongdoing as the means to such ends as illicit, and to leave us the choice and the task of working out which licit means we shall use instead as we may have need or benefit.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 10

The generous eyes

 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Mat 6:22-23)
The healthy eyes, the NIV translators tell us in a footnote, imply generosity, while the unhealthy eyes imply stinginess. The generosity being called for here is towards enemies and debtors. The light imagery connected with the concept of generosity towards enemies and debtors illuminates the meaning of the call for Jesus’ followers to be light to the world near the beginning of the sermon.

Two masters

 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Mat 6:24)

Jesus here identifies the driving force of the violence of the legal system: it is all about the money! Modern asset protection consultants say the same thing.  Jesus again emphasises that when entering a business transaction or experiencing an injury or loss that we have a potentially expensive choice to make: whether or not we shall resort to the violence of the court system. To invoke or choose litigation is to serve money. One cannot be free of evil while using evil means to pursue our debtors.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 9

Treasures in Heaven

 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:19-21)
In this section Jesus is highlighting the vulnerable nature of earthly possessions, not only to natural hazards but also human ones. The wider context suggests that thieves breaking in and stealing refers to legal threats – Jesus generally makes no distinction between court ordered acts and ‘private’ acts in considering their moral and legal quality.
Jesus is teaching a form of asset protection here, according to the modern asset protection maxim ‘what you do not own cannot be taken from you’. The form this takes is giving to the poor (Mat 19:21, Luke 12:33) rather than setting up offshore asset protection trusts, however.
The treasures in heaven surely do also include wisdom from God, the new wisdom taught by Jesus in this sermon, represented by the pearl in the following parable:
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Mat 13:44-46)
It should be understood what the wisdom of God taught by Jesus consists of: it is the willingness to reject wrongdoing even at the cost of non-recovery of debts and injuries, and not re-marrying after a divorce.
The exchange of treasures on earth for treasures in heaven is also shown by the parable of the shrewd manager who gave away value from his master’s estate so that after he lost his job he would be welcomed into people’s homes. The master is God, and our worldly wealth is God’s estate, of which we are the manager. By giving away our worldly wealth rather than accumulating it, we can build up a form of social and financial security that cannot be taken away by litigation:
 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 8

Praying to the Father, for enemies, forgiving debtors

Jesus proceeds with the same honour concept, this time applied to our requests to the Father. The model prayer shows the teaching of how we are to pray to God for our social problems and personal needs.
 ‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, 
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. 
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mat 6:9-15)
The address to the Father in heaven shows that we are to pray to God the Father in heaven, our sole lawgiver and judge (James 4:12), rather than praying to men on earth in the form of lawsuits, for them to give us evil laws to benefit ourselves and to judge our neighbours or enemies.
This can be seen from the parable of the persistent widow where the earthly judge is presented as unjust and the message is that our prayers for justice should be directed instead to God the Father:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”
‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:1-8)
The concept of God ruling from heaven, without deputies on earth ruling with violence is clearly taught in the Old Testament, however the people rejected God as their king and asked for a human king (1 Sam 8). Jesus is calling his people back to God’s rule from heaven: ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.
The hallowing of God’s name is not by swearing oaths in his name and keeping them, but by letting our yes be yes and our no be no, while we invoke not violence to back our words and promises.
The kingdom concept is the main theme of the Gospel of God and involves Jesus the King, his subjects following his leadership and example, and his rule through his laws and commandments. This concept and teaching shows that the laws Jesus gave about responding to wrongdoing are binding and are for general application to the world through the ministry of meek peace-making and reconciliation (Col 1:15-21).
In asking God to forgive our debts, we are acknowledging that we have breached his laws by doing wrongs for which the wrongs of others are no justification. Our sinful natures have sought our own interests to the extent of directly and indirectly using wrongdoing to get our way and solve our problems. This puts us in need of God’s forgiveness. But here’s the catch: God’s forgiveness to us is conditional on us giving up directly and indirectly doing wrongs to others to collect the debts they owe us.
Jesus asks us to pray to God the Father for relief from temptation. The word translated temptation can also be translated trial. One of the types of trial that we pray to avoid is trial in court. If we forgive others, we avoid taking them to court trials, and if we seek conciliation with those who have something against us we also avoid court trials.

The deliverance from evil one includes all kinds of evil, not only private violence but court-sanctioned violence also.  We are to pray to God the Father that we be led away from temptations to evil such as civil disputes with others that can lead us to court.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 7

Perfection of the law

Jesus finished this section by teaching:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:48)
This part matches up to the disclaimer, where Jesus insisted he did not come to abolish the law, even in the smallest matter.
What flaw is Jesus asking us to be perfected from? By this point it should be clear: we must uphold the right and good and reject the wrong and evil absolutely and unconditionally, not carving out exceptions based on the justification of ‘righting’ the wrongs of others or doing it for the greater good or for some worthy purpose. The means do not justify the ends.
Perfection also has the sense of completion or maturity. Jesus perfected the law by removing the evil it permitted us in response to the evils of others.

Luke expresses the parallel teaching as: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36) The perfection enjoined is perfection and completeness of mercy, because ‘mercy triumphs over judgement’ (James 2:13).

The true concept of honour

In abolishing legalised violence and wrongdoing, Jesus teaches an economy and society of honour in its place, with the greatest social sanction being shame and disassociation (Mat 18:15-17). However, the concept of honour is not the same as the worldly concept of external appearance, recognition and social validation. Seeking the honour of external appearance and recognition makes us competitive and conforms us to the standards of this world, even when those standards permit evil. It makes us fearful of non-conformity. It makes us timid in the face of oppression and violence accepted by others.
Jesus teaches a spiritual and heavenly honour instead:
‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mat 6:1-4)
With this concept and model of true honour, we will be bold in rejecting the violence and oppression that the world around us takes for granted or insists is necessary to keep order. With this concept of honour, we can build a non-political and non-coercive force of social preservation and enlightenment.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 6

Jesus abolishes legal redress

Jesus then turns to the core principle of the law of Moses concerning response to general wrongdoing:
‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
 ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Mat 5:38-47)
To understand this teaching it is necessary to clearly understand the law of Moses that Jesus quoted. The application to false witnesses has already been discussed: the legally sanctioned application of violence, up to and including taking the life of the false witness, as a means of getting the witness to be more likely to tell the truth. However, this is but one example of a general principle of the law of Moses and how it provided remedies for breaches of the law that caused loss or injury:
‘If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
‘An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth. (Ex 21:22-27)
This text shows that the application was legally sanctioned violent remedies for cases of injury or loss caused by the breach of the law by a party. It also shows that the references to the legally sanctioned taking of eyes and teeth etc. refer to financial compensation – the slave’s freedom is a financial remedy in his favour, not the mere emotional satisfaction of causing equal loss to the lawbreaker while his own estate remains insolvent. However, for life, no financial compensation was accepted in place of the life of the murderer (Num 35:31).
This is also made clear from the third place the teaching is found:
 ‘“Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution – life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death.  (Lev 24:17-21)
We may therefore summarise the law of Moses on this point as representing the concept of legally sanctioned but legally limited violence. The legally sanctioned violence is recognised as being a danger, resulting in clear legal limitations on the quantum and manner, and extensive legal safeguards to reduce the danger to the innocent. An example of this is the evidential requirement for two eyewitnesses:
One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offence they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deut 19:15)
In light of this analysis of the law of Moses, we can see that Jesus abolishes the concept of legally limited violence as the remedy for breaches of the law. He does not ask for better safeguards, he does not abolish it de facto by excessive procedural requirements; he abolishes it de jure as one handing down a new law for society from his Father in heaven.
In abolishing the old, Jesus also teaches the new law of response to law-breaking: ‘do not resist an evil person’ Jesus is prohibiting resistance to evildoers in response to the evil they do. The word translated resist means ‘oppose, resist, stand out against’ and implies a visible and conscious response of force or power, generally of the same or similar character as the action being resisted. We may not return insult for insult, blow for blow, wound for wound, suit for suit, bullet for bullet or bomb for bomb. We may likewise not return one form of evil for another, in particular we may not resist an insult, injury or unpaid debt into a suit for money damages or action for coercive takings of property to satisfy debts.
Having prohibited violence, lawsuits and returning evil for evil, what options are left? One can simply accept the evil and even condone or defend it. However the examples Jesus gives show that there are non-violent ways of protecting one’s honour and using shame and appeals to honour to uphold righteousness. Creativity, generosity and fearlessness are required to uphold right in the face of evil, resort to litigation or violence are not.
The first case is a humiliating back-hand slap to the right cheek, used by the strong to put the weak in their place, or to insult someone in anger (the left hand was not used). This is the third time Jesus refers to insult as a ground for litigation, 5:11 is the first and verses 21-26 the second. Turning the other cheek indicates both a rejection of violence as a response and a rejection of the humiliation. By presenting the left cheek one rejects the humiliation and invites the strong person to treat you as an equal – at the risk of being punched with the right hand as one would fight an equal. Jesus forbids litigation in general, so he necessarily forbids litigation over insults.
The second case is a lawsuit over debt-enforcement against the underclothes of a person. (Outer-clothes were protected by the law of Moses from attachment for debts, but underclothes were not.) Having abolished the oath and the court for its violent remedies, lawsuits and debt enforcement procedures are then seen as species of violence themselves, evils. The particulars of this example provide an opportunity to shame the judgment creditor and to reveal to the judges and the creditor the merciless behaviour they are approving of and doing: by giving him the outer clothes in addition to the underclothes the judgement debtor is reduced to nakedness, shaming the judge and the creditor, and demonstrating to them the nature of what they are doing to themselves by their conduct. The specifics of the case also strain credulity: second hand underwear today are worthless and even then were probably worth less than the costs of going to court, getting a judgment and enforcing the judgement; thus the case is suggestive of a merciless, vindictive creditor.
The third case is a kind of forced service imposed by Roman soldiers on hapless non-citizens, requiring them to carry their gear for up to 1 Roman mile. The 1 mile limit was introduced to stop fomenting rebellions against Rome. By carrying the gear more than 1 mile, the one forced to carry it could make the Roman soldier feel ashamed for oppressing him and worried that he would get in trouble for breaking Roman law.
The final case relates to our response to being forbidden to litigate and to enforce debts. Jesus abolishes debt enforcement not because debts are necessarily invalid but because, first: enforcement itself is an evil means even if the debts are valid, and second: unenforceability of debts means that all invalid debts can be dishonoured, permitting release at the debtor’s honour and discretion. The law of Moses provided for regular debt cancellation as a means to limit oppression, particularly of the poor. It also provided a teaching about commercial treatment of the poor and vulnerable in connection with such cancellation:
 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards them.  Rather, be open-handed and freely lend them whatever they need.  Be careful not to harbour this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will towards the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.  Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.  There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed towards your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deut 15:7-11)
This final case alludes to this part of the law of Moses as applicable in the case he presents, and it suggests a similar context: prohibition on litigation and debt enforcement are similar to periodic debt cancellation, and so has the same application and focus on protecting the poor and vulnerable.
However, Jesus takes things further by enjoining the same generosity towards our enemies:
And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:34-36)
The next part deals with treatment of friends and enemies. Although the law of Moses requires us to love our neighbours it does not explicitly state we are to hate our enemies. In fact it teaches we should do good to those who hate us (Ex 23:5). Yet, in a very real and practical sense, such teaching is a dead letter, while, on the other hand, there are detailed and effective provisions for channelling hatred of our enemies through the legal process that visits sanctioned violence on them. This can be clearly seen in the laws comparing accidental deaths with murders:
‘“If anyone strikes someone a fatal blow with an iron object, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. Or if anyone is holding a stone and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. Or if anyone is holding a wooden object and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death. If anyone with malice aforethought pushes another or throws something at them intentionally so that they die or if out of enmity one person hits another with their fist so that the other dies, that person is to be put to death; that person is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when they meet.‘“But if without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended, the assembly must judge between the accused and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. (Num 35:16-24)
But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbour, and then flees to one of these cities, the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die.  Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you. (Deut 19:11-13)
There is one law for the enemy and one for the friend. The friend is forgiven for killing, the enemy for the same deed is hated and that hatred is permitted to kill the enemy by the law and its regulations.
This thought is also found in the Psalms:
Those who hate me without reason    outnumber the hairs of my head;many are my enemies without cause,    those who seek to destroy me.I am forced to restore    what I did not steal. (Ps 69:4)
David is apparently saying that the law uses force to require restitution for theft (e.g. Ex 22:3), and that this would be a proper reason for them to be his enemies and hate him and to use the law against him – his complaint not that the law allows his enemies to hate him and do violence to him, but that they are his enemies without cause.  Proper cause makes hate and violence proper, according to the law reflected in David’s view.
In the same way that Jesus summarised correctly the law of Moses with the words ‘anyone who murders will be subject to judgment’ (Mat 5:21) he also summarised correctly the law of Moses with the words ‘hate your enemy’ (Mat 5:43). When the law of Moses says to do good to your enemies, it is an exhortation for us to do supererogatory works, while still being entitled to hate and to channel that hate through the legal process that, on adequate cause and evidence, entitles us to use violence to enforce payment or even to kill.
Jesus changes the law of Moses in this respect: the entitlement to channel hate through the legal process is abolished.
Jesus offers no reforms to the standard of evidence, no court-room procedural reforms, no re-calibration of damages or penalties, no compassionate reforms to improve debtor protection, no new classes of protected assets, no bill of rights, no jury trial rights, and no tort reform.  All these are concerns for those who uphold the principle of the law that Jesus abolished.
The legal process is fundamentally one of discrimination between those who shall be protected from wrath and those who shall suffer it. But Jesus teaches a new law: protect all and condemn none. This is the law of love: it ‘always protects’ (1 Cor 13:7) and it ‘covers a multitude of sins’ (1 Pet 4:8), and it is the debt that is always due (Rom 13:8). We must extend our protection to those who our Father in heaven sends rain and sunshine to without discrimination, that we may be his children.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 5


Jesus then gives the case of oaths:
 ‘Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the oaths you have made.” But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply “Yes,” or “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.  (Mat 5:33-37)
To understand this teaching it is necessary to clearly understand the law of Moses on oaths. First, the teaching on witnesses in legal proceedings:
 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time.  The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deut 19:16-21)
When witnesses give testimony in court there are a number of aspects that are to be assumed inherent in the process:
1.       Witnesses are always put under oath. Unsworn testimony is inadmissible.
2.       The court is in the business of hearing evidence for the purpose of imposing a forceful remedy on the one found to be the wrongdoer, as the means either to make him pay compensation to the victim or to punish the wrongdoer.
3.       The witnesses are always put under oath to have them acknowledge that their testimony will be used as in point 2. and that they understand that the court will impose the same treatment on them should they be caught lying under oath.
The reason for the fear is also obvious: the court instils fear by threatening and carrying out violence against those who it judges.
This function of oaths can be seen in the places where the law of Moses requires that oaths be taken to settle disputes judicially, for example:
 ‘If anyone gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to their neighbour for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the Lord that the neighbour did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required. (Ex 22:10-11)
In this type of case the function of the oath is to back up the truth of the claim not to have stolen the goods by calling upon oneself of the violent curses of the law should one later be proven to have lied. This is the nature of all oaths made by witnesses before the court, whether by the plaintiff, the respondent or third-party witnesses.
Oaths are also used in general commerce to back the truth of assertions or the faithful performance of obligations by advance appeal to the forceful remedies of the law. The commercial oath is, in effect, calling down on oneself the violent curses of the law as the basis upon which one will tell the truth or perform obligations. This is what it meant for an oath to be binding – the legal argument at the time of Jesus was about which oaths were binding (and would therefore make valid appeal to the force of the law):
 ‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.”  You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.” You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. (Mat 23:16-22)
In addition, in other non-commercial circumstances, people can also use oaths to invoke the violence of the court as the basis on which they will tell the truth (or to lie more convincingly):
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ (Mat 26:74)
However, oaths can be used to formalise matters that are not subject to litigation or court-ordered remedies, such as God’s covenants with man, man’s spiritual commitments to God, and man’s commitments to himself. They can also be used for rhetorical effect.
In light of this background on oaths, the teaching of Jesus, and its motivation can be understood: it is the ‘evil’ (Mat 5:37) of appeal to violent legal consequences (implied in oaths) that Jesus is prohibiting, and the purpose of the teaching is so that we will not ‘be condemned’ (James 5:12) by the court to suffer its violence (compare James 2:6). He is requiring men to do business without recourse to violent legal consequences. And he is prohibiting men from seeking or enabling such violent legal consequences by giving evidence to the court under oath.
It also explains why Jesus is not necessarily prohibiting oaths concerning purely spiritual matters, or oaths for rhetorical effect (as used by Paul in his letters).
Jesus demonstrates the violence of the court resulting from testifying under oath during his trial:

The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’
‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’
‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered. (Mat 26:63-66)
In this case Jesus, the makes his final and formal appeal to his people. It was this that Judas Iscariot had gambled on bringing Jesus into his rightful leadership position of the people of Israel against the Romans. However, in some sense the court oath of Jesus was a special case connected with his sacrificial death and in this sense not an example for us of how to avoid enabling the violence of the court generally.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 4


Jesus then moves on to the case of adultery:
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Mat 5:27-30)
Under the law of Moses, adultery is the wrongdoing of a man against another man, and of the man’s wife against the same man. Accordingly, a married man taking an additional wife or otherwise having sexual relations with another woman (neither being any else’s wife) does not commit adultery (e.g. see Pr 6:20-35). However, the practice of polygamy had declined and the ideal of monogamy had become stronger by the time Jesus taught. Consistent with his earlier disclaimer, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to perfect it, particularly concerning original wrongs such as adultery. Jesus raises the standard of marriage to monogamy and teaches the command ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant’ (Ex 20:17) encompassed, as adultery, every desire for any other woman than his wife.


After teaching the perfect standard of his law concerning marriage obligations, Jesus moves on to the permissible responses on breach of such obligations.
 ‘It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.”  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Mat 5:31-32)
The law of Moses provided for divorce as the husband’s remedy for breach of marriage obligations by the wife. The result was that the marriage was dissolved, and the spouses were each free to marry another. However, if a divorced woman married another man, and then he died or divorced her also, she could not re-marry her original husband (Deut 24:1-4).
There were two schools of thought at the time of Jesus on the adequate grounds for divorce:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house … (Deut 24:1)
Some held that the ‘something indecent about her’ was strictly sexual immorality, while others construed it broadly (see Mat 19:3-12). The teaching in Mat 5:32 makes a different point: in the case where a man divorced his wife not on the grounds of sexual immorality, she is innocent of sexual immorality at the time of such divorce, but he becomes the cause of her sexual immorality in the form of adultery when she, as a result, gives herself to another man.
Two issues of translation and interpretation arise here:
1.       The words translated in the NIV ‘makes her the victim of adultery’ are literally ‘makes her commit adultery’ – although the divorce not on the grounds of sexual immorality is a wrong against the wife, Jesus does not rule that such a wrong is adultery, he says it causes her to commit adultery. The only sensible way to understand this ruling is that she commits adultery when she gives herself to another man after being sent out of her husband’s house (as indicated by ‘anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery’).
2.       The words translated ‘except for sexual immorality’ in the NIV may appear to suggest that Jesus is making a law prohibiting divorce by the husband and remarriage by the wife with an exception: where the wife does commit sexual immorality, a man may then divorce his wife, and she may re-marry. However, this is not correct in two ways:
a.       the ruling given applies to the case stated: the case where a man divorces his wife ‘except for sexual immorality.’ The word translated ‘except’ would be better translated ‘without.’  That is to say, Jesus is identifying the case of the husband who divorces his wife without the wife having committed sexual immorality and ruling on that case, and does not rule on the case where the husband divorces his wife on the grounds that she has committed sexual immorality. (The same applies to Mat 19:9)
b.      The ruling about ‘marriage’ to the divorced woman being a form of adultery is a separate case ruling and therefore applies to all cases of ‘marriages’ to divorced women regardless of the grounds of their divorces (as shown by the cases below).
For the sake of completeness we must consider other cases:
1.       The case where the wife does commit sexual immorality, and then she is divorced by her husband and takes another man. Although this case is nowhere expressly covered in the New Testament, it is clear she is not free to remarry while her husband lives because she is a divorced woman, so the second case ruling of Mat 5:32 still applies to her (see also Rom 7:2-3, 1 Cor 7:10-11, 39). However, it is fair to say that the husband does not cause her to commit adultery in the sense Jesus referred to, as she had already caused this herself before her husband divorced her.  However, he may cause her to keep on committing adultery if he marries another and thereby will not take her back if she repents.
2.       The case of a husband who divorces his wife on grounds of her sexual immorality, is he free to remarry? This is prohibited regardless of the cause of the divorce in Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18.
3.       The case of a husband who divorces his wife not on grounds of her sexual immorality, is he free to remarry? Prohibited expressly in Mat 19:9, and regardless of cause in Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18.
Although under the law of Moses a woman cannot divorce her husband, under Roman law she could. Jesus covered that case in the same way in Mark 10:12 concerning the woman’s adultery in re-marrying.
It is therefore clear that the grounds for divorce are irrelevant to the question of remarriage while the other spouse remains alive. This is why the disciples said ‘if this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry’ (Mat 19:10) – this is a hard teaching for many.
So, having now analysed the legal cases we may proceed to identify the logic and legal principle behind all these cases. This can be found by looking at the cases from the point of view of the innocent spouse: the innocent wife divorced by her husband not on the grounds of her committing sexual immorality, and the innocent husband who divorces his wife on the grounds of her sexual immorality. In both cases the innocent party is not free to re-marry. In both cases, taking another man or woman is ruled to be adultery.  The critical legal principle is therefore this: the first wrongdoing of one spouse does not justify the later wrongdoing of the other innocent spouse. All adultery is prohibited, and proper legal procedure and adequate legal cause does not excuse it.

Stoning adulterers

We shall now briefly cover the other legal rule from the law of Moses on adultery: the command to stone adulterers. Although Jesus does not here explicitly abolish this law he implicitly does by discussing only the legal remedy of divorce in the Sermon on the Mount. The teachers of the law were practically opposed to the death penalty for any wrongdoing, and although they supported it in principle they abolished in practice with extreme evidential and procedural requirements. At the time of Jesus they also required Roman approval to legally execute anyone. For this reason Jesus had no reason to discuss this law in the Sermon on the Mount.
However, this is indeed a case where Jesus took a different position, in principle, from the law of Moses, and for this reason the teachers of the law tried to trap him in the incident of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).  In this case, Jesus gave an answer that, while invoking the procedural requirements of the law of Moses (Deut 17:7) to stop the illegal honour killing, he also should be understood to have taught that to stone her would be a sin regardless of compliance with legal and procedural justice (John 8:7).
The case of Joseph’s intended divorce is also instructive. Joseph appeared to have suspected Mary of adultery and he intended divorce only, and a quiet one at that:
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Mat 1:19)
Matthew describes Joseph as being ‘just’ (NIV: ‘faithful to the law’) in his intention concerning how to respond to Mary’s apparent adultery.  The connotation of divorcing her ‘quietly’ suggests that divorce, such as it should be, can be peaceable and permitted response to adultery where the parties cannot for the time being reconcile. It is also notable that there is no need to go to court to get a divorce under the law of Moses. The alternative of Joseph in this case appears to have been a possible illegal honour killing (literally ‘to make a show or public spectacle’). Although he had evidence for his case in Mary’s pregnancy, it was well short of the two witnesses of the law of Moses, and those educated in the law considered the quiet divorce to be the proper course of action. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 3

Jesus mocks the civil litigation system

Jesus now turns to his real target: the Jewish legal system as the representation of the principle and the practice of using the force of law to ‘right’ wrongs and enforce debts. He does this by comparing and contrasting two different cases:  a capital cases and a case for money damages.
 ‘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 court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.
‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Mat 5:21-26)
Before examining the text in detail, we shall introduce a parallel text from Luke’s gospel to indicate the purpose of including the details about the civil litigation and civil debt enforcement procedures:
 He said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, “It’s going to rain,” and it does.  And when the south wind blows, you say, “It’s going to be hot,” and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
‘Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’ (Luke 12:54-59)
So the intention of Jesus in including these civil litigation and debt enforcement procedures is to tell them what is wrong with the society in which they live – by simply recounting these procedures he intends to prick the consciences of compassionate souls.
Jesus also includes such details elsewhere, for the same reason:
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. …
He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.
‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.”‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. (Mat 18:24-25,28-30)
We now proceed to analyse the text itself in detail: what is Jesus’s problem with civil litigation and debt enforcement? How does he make his point?
The first case Jesus uses in his message is the capital case of murder. The law of Moses prohibits murder, and Jesus is not abolishing that prohibition. Although the “You shall not murder” is a direct quote from the law of Moses, the “anyone who murders will be subject to judgement” is not. The liability to judgement for murder being referred to by Jesus is the human legal judgement and sentence under the system of judges established by Moses on the advice of Jethro (Ex 18). The procedures for avenging the life of the person murdered are detailed in Numbers 35:16-34. The procedure is to take the life of the murderer, with substantial procedural protections afforded the accused.
In Jewish legal thought and practice things were not as simple as it would appear from Numbers 35:16-34. Although they could not deny the legal principle of ‘a life for a life,’ – the principle is expressly stated in the law of Moses – actually taking the life of the one accused of murder (or any other capital offense) was opposed in practice. By imposing impossible burdens of evidence they de facto abolished the death penalty around the same time Jesus taught. Rather than have the law approve the killing of a man, they would exclude it on evidential grounds. They then described the law as merciful in respect of it sparing the lives of murderers.
Did Jesus call them back to the law of Moses on this practice? Did he disapprove of them adding traditions of men to make the law of Moses of no effect in this regard? Did he introduce arguments about the effectiveness of capital punishment in deterring murders?
The second case Jesus uses in his message is the civil case of insult. Note the progression from ‘subject to judgement’ referring to the local court of general jurisdiction, then to ‘answerable to the court’ referring specifically to the Sanhedrin, finally to ‘in danger of the fire of hell’ which is referring to execution by the Romans, who held the sole power of the death penalty and could, after crucifixion, dispose on one’s body without burial dishonourably in Gehenna, the burning rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. The rhetorical point of the final level is show that the Romans would indeed impose capital punishment on those who, like Jesus, caused political trouble even though only by their words and not by murder. Throughout the gospels, the teachers of the law are shown to be in favour of killing to protect their economic privileges and political power from Jesus’s teaching, while pleading for the life of a murderer:
You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. (Acts 3:13-14)
The law of Moses provides no express entitlement to money damages or any other legal remedy for insult. However, by the time Jesus taught, the teachers of the law discussed the following heads of liability for injuries: damage, pain, healing, loss of time from work, and insult. Although the law of Moses expressly provides for bodily damage (Ex 21:23-27), healing and loss of time from work (Ex 21:18-19), and implicitly for pain (Ex 21:22), the recoverability of insult was at least questionable and debatable at the time Jesus taught, although at a later time it was confirmed and upheld. The Sermon on the Mount contains three references to insult: 5:11, here and in verse 39. Yet Jesus presents such a case as being litigated all the way to the supreme court (Sanhedrin), and resulting in a judgement liability so great as to financially ruin the judgement debtor and subject him to debtors’ prison till he paid the last penny of the judgement debt.
The case of a civil suit solely for insult is therefore a parody of the law of civil claims: here is a man whose only injury is to his honour, and yet here he is, threatening suit, filing suit, proving his case (on the lower civil standard of proof), obtaining his judgement, and enforcing it against the judgement debtor by putting him in debtors’ prison until he had paid the last penny. Is this the course of a man of honour?
Although addressed as prudent advice to the man seeking to avoid being dragged to court, underneath it is a barb against the teachers of the law and the judges who are merciful to murderers while justifying and measuring out money judgments against men in civil litigation. If they can see and effectively avoid the sin of killing murderers to ‘right’ their wrongs why not the sin of oppressing civil defendants to ‘right’ their (lesser) wrongs? 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sermon on the Mount, part 2

Jesus did not abolish the law or the prophets

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:17-20)
This disclaimer is necessary because the teaching that follows, prohibiting ‘legal’ wrongdoing in response to illegal wrongdoing, appears, according to the wisdom of this world, to be condoning the first wrongdoing.
To properly interpret the disclaimer requires an analysis of the teaching that follows, and the use of other sources identifying the aspects of the law and the prophets that he is upholding and perfecting on the one hand, and to identify the aspects that he is excising on the other.
Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus identifies what he means by the law and the prophets:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Mat 7:12)
Later in his gospel Matthew provides a similar summary of the law and the prophets:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Mat 22:34-40)
As we shall see below, the teaching does not change what constitutes original wrongdoing. In fact, as Jesus argues, his law is stricter and deeper against wrongdoing, both original and responsive. Jesus does not teach that murder, assault, adultery, stealing etc. are justified or right. However, the lawful responses to such wrongdoing are subject to radical change.
The teaching on fulfilment and accomplishment are also important.  The word translated ‘fulfil’ means fill up a deficiency, to make full, to perfect, to set forth fully. Jesus came to perfect the law, to fully develop it into a mature body, to remove its last impediment to perfection: its regulation and sanction of wrongdoing in response to wrongdoing. This can be seen in the other teaching on this topic from Paul:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law. (Rom 13:8-10)
Paul’s message is this: debts should be paid, and doing so ends the obligation to pay. But the obligation to love does not end and it remains regardless of whether the other person is a debtor or a creditor. The duty to refrain from doing harms to your neighbour applies even if his debt to you is valid, overdue and unpaid. The perfect law provides no allowance of harms as a means of recovering debts.