Friday, July 2, 2010

Matthew 5:27-30 (Luther)

Matthew 5:27. You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”
28. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
29. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
30. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

In this pinch of salt directed against the teaching of the Pharisees, He discusses two subjects, adultery and divorce. They had interpreted adultery the same way they interpreted the Fifth Commandment, and had taught that this was only a prohibition of actual adultery. The ardor of the heart with its evil lusts and love, as well as the obscene language and vulgar gestures this produced, they did not think of as sinful or as harmful to their sanctity, just so long as they did good works and were diligent in their sacrifices and prayers. Thus instead of teaching God’s commandments, they distorted them; instead of making people pious, they only made them worse, opening the door to every kind of sin and immorality. But here you are listening to another Master. He turns their sanctity into sin and shame, illuminating this commandment and arguing that when a man leers at a woman or cracks shady jokes or even thinks about her lustfully, this is an adultery of the eyes or the ears or the mouth, and above all an adultery of the heart.
Look at what the condition of this people must have been and what kind of people Christ must have faced. Not only the great and common mob, but even their superiors, teachers, and rulers permitted such things and committed them themselves. They made adultery easier, and yet they wanted a reputation for piety as long as they did not actually commit overt adultery. It is easy to figure out how pious and chaste people can remain in their works if they are permitted to go so far that their heart is brimming over with lust and that they express this to one another in all sorts of signs, words, and gestures. What other outcome can this have than the act itself, as soon as there is an opportunity? Now, is a man so much more pious if he cannot do what he would like to do, but incessantly burns with desire for it in his heart? When he is lying in jail, a scoundrel can still wish that his master were dead and that he could have the opportunity to do the killing himself. Nevertheless, is it wrong to call him a murderer, or should we call him a pious man?
But you may say: “If it is true that it is possible to commit adultery even with a glance, what can we do? Men and women have to live together and have dealings with one another every day. Should a person run away from the world or pluck out his eyes and ears or have his heart torn out?” Answer: Here Christ is not forbidding us to live together, to eat and drink, and even to laugh and have fun. That is all innocuous, provided this one thing is absent, “to look at her lustfully.” Of course, the Jews try to help out by saying that it is not sinful for a person to love someone else with thoughts and signs, just as they do not regard it as sinful to get angry with your neighbor and to hate him in your heart; so that one should not condemn the whole nation, with so many holy people, as though they were nothing but murderers and adulterers. Therefore they twist the meaning31 of these commandments to suit themselves and say that they should not be interpreted so strictly; as our theologians have said, “These may be good bits of advice for perfect people, but no one is bound by them.” So far off have they gone on this question that a great dispute and doubt has arisen as to whether cohabitation with a whore outside of marriage is a sin. In fact, respectable people in Italy nowadays think that it is honorable and even holy if a person goes this far and no farther. On the other hand, there are some people who have tightened it entirely too much and who want to be so holy that they forbid even a glance, and have taught that all companionship between men and women should be avoided. This is where you get those outstanding saints who have run away from the world into the wilderness and into the monasteries, isolating themselves from all seeing and hearing, from all contact and association with the world.
In opposition to both of these, Christ forbids the manipulation of God’s commandment, as well as any advice that would give rein to immorality and wickedness. He says clearly and candidly that whoever looks at a woman lustfully is an adulterer; and in addition He sentences him to hell-fire by saying (Matt. 18:9): “It is better for you to pluck out your eye than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” He does not want the kind of saints that runs away from human society. If this were to become prevalent, the Ten Commandments would become unnecessary. If I am in a desert, isolated from human society, it is no credit to me that I do not commit adultery or that I do not murder or steal. Meanwhile I can imagine that I am holy and that I have done even more than is required by the Ten Commandments, which God gave precisely in order to teach us the proper way of living in the world with our neighbor.
For we are not made for fleeing human company, but for living in society and sharing good and evil. As human beings we must help one another to bear all kinds of human misfortune and the curse that has come upon us. We must be ready to live among wicked people, and there everyone must be ready to prove his holiness instead of becoming impatient and running away. On earth we have to live amid thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:18), in a situation full of temptation, hostility, and misfortune. Hence it does not help you at all to run away from other people, for within you are still carrying the same old scoundrel, the lust and evil appetite that clings to your flesh and blood. Even if you are all alone, with the door locked, you still cannot deny your father and mother; nor can you discard your flesh and blood and leave them on the ground. You have no call to pick up your feet and run away, but to stay put, to stand and battle against every kind of temptation like a knight, and with patience to see it through and to triumph.
Christ is a real Teacher, therefore. He does not teach you to run away from people, nor to move away, but to get hold of yourself and to discard the eye or the hand that offends you, that is, to get rid of the cause of your sin, the evil appetite and lust that clings to you and proceeds from your own heart (Matt. 15:19). Once you are rid of this, it is easy to be in human society and to enjoy human company without sinning. Hence He says clearly, as we have heard: “If you look at a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery with her in your heart.” He does not forbid looking at her; for He is talking to people who have to live in human society in the world, as the preaching in this chapter, both before and after, amply demonstrates. But He does want us to distinguish between looking and lusting. You may look at any woman or man, only be sure that you do not lust. That is why God has ordained for every person to have his own wife or husband, to control and channel his lust and his appetites. If you do not go any further than this, He approves it, He even pronounces His blessing upon it, and He is pleased with it as His ordinance and creature. But if you do go further, if you refuse to be content with what God has given you for your desires, and if you leer at others, you have already gone too far and have confused the two, so that your looking is corrupted by your lusting.
When a man does not look at his wife, on the basis of the Word of God, as the one whom God gives him and whom He blesses, and when instead he turns his gaze to another woman, this is the principal cause of adultery, which then is almost inevitable. Soon the heart follows the eyes, bringing on the desire and appetite that I ought to reserve for my wife alone. Flesh and blood is curious enough anyway. It soon has its fill and loses its taste for what it has, and it gapes at something else. With the devil’s promptings, a person sees only his wife’s faults, losing sight of her good and laudable qualities. As a consequence, every other woman seems more beautiful and better to my eyes than my own wife. Indeed, many a man with a truly beautiful and pious wife lets himself be hoodwinked into hating her and taking up with some vile and ugly bag.
As I have pointed out more fully in my other discussions of marriage and married life,32 it would be a real art and a very strong safeguard against all this if everyone learned to look at his spouse correctly, according to God’s Word, which is the dearest treasure and the loveliest ornament you can find in a man or a woman. If he mirrored himself in this, then he would hold his wife in love and honor as a divine gift and treasure. And if he saw another woman, even one more beautiful than his own wife, he would say: “Is she beautiful? As far as I am concerned, she is not very beautiful. And even if she were the most beautiful woman on earth, in my wife at home I have a lovelier adornment, one that God has given me and has adorned with His Word beyond the others, even though she may not have a beautiful body or may have other failings. Though I may look over all the women in the World, I cannot find any about whom I can boast with a joyful conscience as I can about mine: ‘This is the one whom God has granted to me and put into my arms.’ I know that He and all the angels are heartily pleased if I cling to her lovingly and faithfully. Then why should I despise this precious gift of God and take up with someone else, where I can find no such treasure or adornment?”;
Thus I could look at all women, talk with them, laugh, and have a good time with them, without experiencing any lust or desire and without letting any of them seem so beautiful or desirable to me that I would be willing to transgress the Word and commandment of God. Though I might be tempted by flesh and blood, I would not have to consent or let myself be overcome; but I would have to battle against it like a knight and conquer through the Word of God, living in the world in such a way that no evil could corrupt me and no allurement could seduce me into adultery. But because a person does not give this Word of God a glance or a thought, it is easy for him to get tired of his wife and to despise her; he finds his love drawn to another, and his lust and appetite for her are irresistible. For he has not learned the art of looking at his wife correctly, according to the beauty and adornment with which God has clothed her for him. He cannot see beyond what his eyes see, that his wife seems to have a poor shape or other faults, while another one seems prettier and better. Thus you understand when it is a sin and when it is not a sin to look at a woman, namely, that you should not look at another woman the way a man should look only at his wife.
Yet we should not make the bowstring too taut here, as if anyone who is tempted and whose lust and desire for another woman are aroused would be damned for it. I have often said that it is impossible to be alive and to have flesh and blood without any sinful and evil inclination, whether in this or in all the other commandments. Theologians have therefore made this distinction, and I am willing to let it stand: “If an evil thought is involuntary, it is not a mortal sin.”33 If someone has injured you, your heart will inevitably feel it, get excited, and in its excitement want to get even. As long as it does not make up its mind and go on to do violence, but resists the urge, this is not a damnable sin. It is the same in this case. It is impossible to keep the devil from shooting evil thoughts and lusts into your heart. But see to it that you do not let such arrows (Eph. 6:16) stick there and take root, but tear them out and throw them away. Do what one of the ancient fathers counseled long ago: “I cannot,” he said, “keep a bird from flying over my head. But I can certainly keep it from nesting in my hair or from biting my nose off.”34 So it is not in our power to prevent this or some other temptation and to keep the thoughts from occurring to us. Just be sure that you let it go at that and do not let them in, even though they knock on the door. Keep them from taking root, for they may make you sin voluntarily and purposely. it is still sin nonetheless, but it is included in our common forgiveness; for we cannot live in the flesh without a great many sins, and everyone must have his devil. Thus St. Paul complains (Rom. 7:17, 18) about the sin that dwells in him and says he knows that nothing good dwells in his flesh.
This argument and inquiry has come from some: “Is it sinful for a man and a woman to desire each other for the purpose of marriage?”35 This is ridiculous, a question that contradicts both Scripture and nature. Why would people get married if they did not have desire and love for each other? Indeed, that is just why God has given this eager desire to bride and bridegroom, for otherwise everybody would flee from marriage and avoid it. In Scripture, therefore, He also commanded man and woman to love each other, and He shows that the sexual union of husband and wife is also most pleasing to Him. Hence this desire and love must not be absent, for it is a good fortune and a great pleasure, if only it continues as long as possible. Without it there is trouble: from the flesh, because a person soon gets tired of marriage and refuses to bear the daily discomfort that comes with it; and from the devil, who cannot stand the sight of a married couple treating each other with genuine love and who will not rest until he has given them an occasion for impatience, conflict, hate, and bitterness. Therefore it is an art both necessary and difficult, and one peculiarly Christian, this art of loving one’s husband or wife properly, of bearing the other’s faults and all the accidents and troubles. At first everything goes all right, so that, as the saying goes, they are ready to eat each other up for love.36 But when their curiosity has been satisfied, then the devil comes along to create boredom in you, to rob you of your desire in this direction, and to excite it unduly in another direction.
This much in brief regarding lust and desire. But what shall we say about the way Christ pulls the bowstring taut when He commands us to pluck out our eye and cut off our hand if they offend us? Are we supposed to cripple ourselves, to make ourselves lame and blind? In that case we would have to take our own life, and everyone would have to commit suicide. If we are supposed to throw away everything that offends us, first we have to tear out our heart. But that would be nothing else than the abolition of everything in nature and of all the creatures of God. Answer: Here you see clearly that in this chapter Christ is not saying anything about the secular order and its affairs. The phrases which the Gospel employs again and again—phrases like “denying yourself” (Matt. 16:24), “hating your soul” (John 12:25), “renouncing all” (Luke 14:33)—have nothing to do with secular affairs or the imperial government. Nor should they be interpreted according to the Saxon code of law, when the lawyers talk about plucking out eyes or cutting off hands, or similar matters.37 Otherwise, how could this life and this secular realm continue? All this is said in relation to spiritual life and spiritual affairs. Not outwardly, physically, or publicly before the world, but in your heart and in the presence of God—that is where you throw away your eye and your hand, deny yourself, and forsake all. He is not giving lessons in the use of the fist or the sword, nor in the control of life and property. He is teaching about the heart and the conscience before God. Therefore we must not drag His words into the law books or into the secular government.
He talks this way about castration in Matthew 19:12, where He enumerates three classes of castrates or eunuchs. The first and second classes are those who either were born that way or were castrated by the hands of men. They are called “castrates” by the world and the jurists, too. But the third class are those who have castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. They are another kind of castrate; they are called eunuchs not outwardly, in their body, but spiritually, in their heart, not in a worldly sense, but as He says, “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” With the secular area He has nothing to do. Here, too, we should tear out our eyes, hands, and heart spiritually, and let it all go so that it does not offend us. Yet we should live in this secular sphere, where we cannot get along without any of these things.
Here is what this means: If you feel that you are looking at a woman with an evil desire, pluck out that eye or that look, since it is forbidden by God—not out of your body but out of your heart, from which your lust and appetite proceed (Matt. 15:19). Then you have really plucked it out. For if the evil desire has been removed from your heart, then your eye will not sin or offend you. You will look at that woman now with the same physical eye but without lust, and it will seem to you that you have not seen her at all. You no longer have the eye which Christ is discussing, the one that was there before and is called the eye of lust or desire, although your physical eye remains unimpaired. He says the same thing with regard to the eunuchs. A heart that has resolved to live chastely without marriage, if it has the grace it needs, has made itself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven; it does not have to do any harm to the organs of its body. In short, it is the kind of castrating and plucking out that neither a hand nor a hangman can do, but only the Word of God in the heart.
Some fools transfer these and similar statements from the spiritual to the outward, secular sphere, as if Christ’s teaching were opposed to the secular realm and even to the natural order and the creation. Some were so coarse in their foolishness that they became impatient and despaired in their conflict with flesh and blood. They helped themselves along, until the bishops in the councils had to forbid it.38 All this comes from a misunderstanding. They do not distinguish Christ’s realm and doctrine from that of the world. Their understanding of castration continues to be outward, and all they think of is the way the world uses and means the term. But Christ Himself excludes and eliminates this understanding. He makes a distinction and contrast between those who have been castrated by nature or by human hands (whether their own or someone else’s) and those who have been castrated neither by human hands nor by nature. Thus He clearly shows that He is talking only about spiritual castration, where the integrity of the body and of all its organs is unimpaired, but where it does not have the same sort of sexual desire that others do. No hands can cut this out of flesh and blood, even though a person were to be deprived of his natural organs. They say that such eunuchs or castrates are more ardent and loving toward women than anyone else, which is why great kings39 have liked to have such people as chamberlains, for their great fidelity and love to women.
But it seems that at other times, too, Christ used this expression (Matt. 18:8, 9): “If your eye offends against you,” or, “If your hand or foot offends against you.” Elsewhere in the Gospel they are applied to other issues, and He uses them as a proverb. He applies them as a familiar comparison to sin in general and says that we should not give in to opportunities and temptations to sin. But here He applies and interprets it with reference to a special ease, namely, adultery, commanding us to pluck out the eye that is about to offend us by evil desire. Adultery is usually brought on by looking; it enters the heart through the eyes, unless the temptation is resisted. He interprets the same words with reference to another kind of offense in Matthew 18:8, 9 where He calls it an offending eye or hand for a preacher or teacher or master or tyrant to try to mislead you from the truth and from the right doctrine. He tells you to pluck it out and throw it away so that you may say: “Yes, you are my eye or my hand, my master or my ruler. But if you try to turn me away from the truth to a false faith or to evil works, I refuse to follow you.”
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:83). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Matthew 5:25,26 (Luther)

Matthew 5:25. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison;
26. truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

In the preceding verses He was preaching against the man who injured his neighbor or became angry with him. Now He talks about how the injured party should behave. He stays with the analogy He had used earlier, that is, the procedure in a courtroom with two parties opposed to each other, one party as the accuser and the other party as the accused, and with the judge pronouncing sentence and punishing the guilty party. What He wants to say is that while a man who injures another should in a friendly way become reconciled with him, the injured party should also be willing to be reconciled and to forgive. This, too, is a delicate problem, where it is easy for many people to cover up and decorate their malice by saying that they are willing to forgive but not to forget. They can always use the excuse I have mentioned, that it is all right to be angry at wickedness. Hence they suppose that they have good reason and justification for doing so.
That is why He issues another warning here and shows that this commandment not only forbids wrath, but also requires a person cheerfully to forgive and forget injury that he has suffered. That is what God has done with us and continues to do when He forgives sin: He expunges it from the record and no longer remembers it. Still it is neither necessary nor possible for a man to forget it in the sense that he never thinks of it again, but in the sense that your heart is just as friendly toward your neighbor as it used to be before he injured you. If the stump remains in your heart and you are not as friendly and kind toward him as you used to be, that is not forgetting or even cordially forgiving. You are still the scoundrel who comes before the altar with his sacrifice and tries to serve God even while his heart is crammed full of anger, envy, and hate. But very few people pay any attention to this at all. They all walk around in their beautiful mask; they fail to see the relation of their heart to this commandment, which summarily rejects any anger or ill will against the neighbor.
Of course, as we have said, anger is sometimes necessary and proper. But be sure that you use it correctly. You are commanded to get angry, not on your own behalf, but on behalf of your office and of God; you must not confuse the two, your person and your office. As far as your person is concerned, you must not get angry with anyone regardless of the injury he may have done to you. But where your office requires it, there you must get angry, even though no injury has been done to you personally. For example, a pious judge gets angry with a criminal, even though personally he wishes him no harm and would rather let him off without punishment. His anger comes out of a heart where there is nothing but love toward his neighbor. Only the evil deed is punishable and must bear the anger; without it there would be no anger or punishment. But if your brother has done something against you and angered you, and then begs your pardon and stops doing wrong, your anger, too, should disappear. Where does the secret spite come from which you continue to keep in your heart? The deed that caused your anger is gone, and in its place have come other deeds, which show that the man is converted and has become a completely different person, a new tree with new fruits. Now he gives you his love and his highest esteem, he blames and reproaches himself on your account. If you do not give him another chance and cordially forgive him, you must really be a scoundrel before both God and the world; and you deserve the sentence which Christ threatens here.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:82). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Matthew 5:23,24 (Luther)

Matthew 5:23. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24. leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

He delivers a long sermon on this commandment, which seems to be an easy text. But this vice is very widespread and common, especially among people who are high and mighty and wise, like the people at the courts of kings, lords, and princes. Whoever amounts to something and is in a position to do something on earth, becomes involved in this. Yet this dare not be called by name, since it puts on a very good front and gets itself all polished and shined with a show of sanctity. In this way many people deceive themselves and others. They do not see that in their heart they hate their neighbor or bear a secret grudge against him. Yet they want to give the appearance of being pious, of serving God; and as He says here, they go to the altar and offer a sacrifice, supposing that everything is all right with them. This is how it works. There is a decorative and beautiful screen called “zeal for righteousness,” a virtue which loves justice, which hates wickedness and cannot bear it.30 Thus the sword and the government were ordained to administer righteousness and to punish wickedness, just as father and mother and master and mistress have to get angry and punish. Now along comes a pious scoundrel. He puts on his little mantle and says that he is doing it out of love for righteousness and that he has a just and appropriate cause for doing so. At the present time certain princes and others are crammed full of poison, hatred, and envy against our supporters. So saturated are they with this that they have no conscience about it, and the whole issue is a matter of “indulgences” and “shrines.” They protect themselves beautifully with the screen of heresy-hunting, making it a great virtue, a holy zeal, and a love for truth. At bottom there is nothing but a shameful hatred and a poisonous spite, which has no other way of manifesting and expressing itself.
With the exception of our dear lord the emperor personally, who has not received any better information about us, none of our opponents has or knows any reason to hate us and oppose us except sheer envy and malice. This I know and dare to say: They are not acting this way on account of any crimes that we have committed or because we are such rascals or scoundrels or because we have done them any harm. They know, too, and have had to admit that our doctrine is completely true. So poisonous are they, nevertheless, that they would tolerate a world full of nothing but desperate scoundrels rather than us and our supporters.
Many people who are otherwise fine, respectable, learned, and upstanding become filled with secret anger, envy, and hate, and are embittered by it. Still they never become aware of it, and their conscience is satisfied that what they are doing is in pursuit of their office or in obedience to righteousness. Their screen is so lovely and delusive that no one dares to speak of them as anything but pious and upstanding people. The ultimate result is a sin against the Holy Spirit and hardened hearts, which become confirmed and obdurate in this poisonous vice. There are two aspects to this wickedness. In the first place, the heart is full of anger, hate, and envy. But in the second place, it refuses to admit that this is sin and malice, but wants it to be called virtue; this amounts to slapping God across the mouth and calling Him a liar in His words.
You see, that is why Christ warns everyone so diligently to be on the lookout here and not to be fooled by this hypocrisy and pretense. It is incredible that such a simple bit of instruction can be so far-reaching and strike such great people. By the words “if you are offering your gift at the altar” He makes it clear that He is talking about people who serve God and claim to be His true children, who have a reputation as paragons of virtue. What is wrong with them, then? Nothing at all, except that their heart is crammed full of hate and envy! My friend, what is the use of continual fasting and praying, of giving away everything you have for God’s sake (1 Cor. 13:3), of whipping yourself to death, and of doing twice as many good works as all the Carthusians put together if meanwhile you ignore the commandments which God wants you to obey? Does it not bother your conscience to slander and defame other people and at the same time to offer a great sacrifice? That is the same as bringing on war, murder, and bloodshed—and then paying a thousand guldens to have Masses said for the souls of those who were killed; or stealing a large amount of money—and then giving alms for God’s sake. In this way they deceive God as well as themselves with their pretty pretense, and they imagine that now He has to consider them real living saints.
Therefore He says now: “If you intend to serve God and to offer a sacrifice, but are guilty of harming someone or of being angry with your neighbor, you should know immediately that God wants no part of this sacrifice. Lay it right down, drop everything, and go straight to your brother to be reconciled.” With the term “sacrifice” He is referring to every possible work done in the service or to the praise of God, since at that time offering a sacrifice was the best possible work. He rejects it completely, demanding that you leave it unless your heart tells you beforehand that you are reconciled with your neighbor and unless you are unaware of any anger against him. “If this is so,” He says, “come and offer your sacrifice.” He appends this to avoid the impression that He wants to reject or despise such a sacrifice, which was not an evil deed, but one that God had ordered and commanded; what was evil and what ruined it was their disregard and contempt for His other and higher commandments. That amounts to abusing sacrifices to harm your neighbor.
Another and more serious abuse of sacrifice is trying to be saved through it, using it as atonement for sin and as a foundation for our confidence and trust before God; we have discussed this elsewhere. In itself it is a good work. It is not right to despise or neglect any of the other works of public worship, like praying and fasting, where they are intended and used properly (that is, not in order to merit heaven) and where the heart is right with its neighbor. In this way the condition of both faith and love is pure and right. But if you pray and fast and at the same time you gossip about your neighbor or defame and slander people, your mouth may be speaking holy words and eating nothing, but meanwhile it is polluting and defiling itself with your neighbor contrary to God’s commandment.
In the prophet Isaiah, therefore (Is. 58:3–7), He denounces and forbids the fasting with which they punished their bodies and made a pretense of great devotion; and He says: “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your debtors. You fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” He goes on to teach them about the meaning of proper fasting: “This is a fast that I have chosen. Release those who are in unjust bondage to you, and let those whom you are oppressing go free. Share your bread with the hungry; when you see the naked, cover him.” Here you see that all He cares about is love to the neighbor.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:79). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Matthew 5:22 (Luther)

Matthew 5:22. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, “You fool!” shall be liable to the hell of fire.

See, this is the true light. It shows the real meaning of this commandment, and it makes their miserable gloss look shameful, like a dark lantern in contrast with the brightness of the sun. Now it shines so differently that they are astonished and say (Matt. 7:29): “That is teaching with authority,” not as their scribes. His exposition is clear enough and has often been discussed elsewhere. Still on account of the text, we have to emphasize the words a little. He says first: “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment”; that is, he deserves the same punishment that is inflicted upon a murderer, namely, the sentence of death. He repeats the very words of the text He has just quoted (Lev. 24:17): “He who kills a man shall be put to death.” Now since a man who is angry with his brother comes under the same sentence, he also deserves the name “murderer.” By the second and third clauses, “whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ or ‘You fool!’ is liable to the council and to the hell of fire,” He means the same as “liable to judgment,” namely, that such a person is liable to execution.
He mentions three items to show that the punishment becomes greater and more stringent as the sin progresses and breaks out further. He is using the language of the courtroom when a criminal is supposed to be punished. For example, if a man has committed murder, he is first liable to the judgment; that is, he is hauled up before the court, indicted, and a charge of murder is placed against him. This is the first level, or step, toward death; but the sentence has not yet been passed, and he still has a chance to defend himself and get off. But when, in the second step, the sentence of death has been passed upon him, then he is liable to the council. Then people take counsel about him to decide the punishment he is to receive; this means that he is even closer to death and cannot escape. When, in the third step, the sentence of death has been passed and everything has been decided, he is handed over to the executioner, who takes him away and performs his official function. With these three steps He shows how a man sinks deeper and deeper into punishment, just as a man who has been sentenced to be executed draws closer and closer to death. Thus it is as if He had said: “Whoever is angry in his heart, already deserves death before God. But whoever goes further and says, ‘Raca!’ or, ‘You fool!’ has already had his sentence pronounced upon him.” In other words, whoever is angry with his brother is already damned to the hell of fire. But whoever says, “Raca!” deserves to go still deeper into hell; and deeper yet, whoever kills with his words and fists as well. So there is only one punishment and damnation; but this becomes more stringent and severe, in accordance with the level and the virulence of the sin.
“Raca” is usually taken to represent the many ways in which we can show anger against our neighbor—when we refuse to talk to him or to look at him, when we laugh up our sleeve over his bad luck, or when in some other way we show that his complete ruination would make us happy. There are many of these poisonous and malicious worms who are bitterly and treacherously attacking us now, both in public and in secret. There is nothing that would make them as happy as hearing that we had all been exterminated. Yet they pose as holy Christian people!
The other term, “You fool!” means not only the attitudes we have been mentioning, but also all of the words that come out of a malicious and poisonous heart which is hostile to its neighbor. Otherwise, if they come out of a kindly and motherly heart, that is not a sin. Then it is permissible to scold and rebuke with words, as St. Paul calls his Galatians “foolish” (Gal. 3:1) and Christ says to His disciples (Luke 24:25): “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe.” What is more, we also have to get angry and put on a stern and unfriendly face. All this is a godly anger and vexation. It is directed at the wrong and not at the person, and it is intended to help our neighbor. In other words, such anger is necessary and indispensable in any house, in any position in life28 or in government, indeed, in any pulpit. If father and mother, judge, and preacher held back their mouths and their fists and did nothing to curb or punish evil, the wickedness of the world would destroy the government and the church and everything. So the command here is to “hate the deed, but love the doer,” as the lawyers say—if they only made the right use of it.29
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:77). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Matthew 5:21 (Luther)

MATTHEW 5:21. You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.”

Here He begins the correct explanation of several of the Ten Commandments, and He shows that all the Pharisees and scribes did in teaching, explaining, and interpreting them was to take the words as they stood and to apply them merely to coarse outward deeds. In the Fifth Commandment, to give one example, all they saw was the word “kill,” which they took to mean “strike dead with the hand.” This was all they taught people, as though this commandment forbade nothing beyond this. Thus they gave themselves a magnificent way out: they would not be guilty of murder if they handed someone over to another person to be killed. When they delivered Christ to the Gentile Pilate, they did not want to defile their hands with blood and wanted to stay pure and holy. They even refused to go into the judge’s house (John 18:28), and yet it was they alone who were bringing on His death and compelling Pilate against his will to kill Him. They pretended to be completely pure and innocent, and they even objected to the apostles (Acts 5:28): “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” It is as though they were to say: “It was not we but the Gentiles who killed Him.” So the story is told in 1 Samuel 18:17 that King Saul did not like David and would have liked to kill him; but since he wanted to be holy, he decided not to kill him himself, but to send him among the Philistines to be killed there, so that his hand would remain innocent.
Look at this beautiful Pharisaic holiness! It can purify itself and stay pious as long as it does not kill with its own hand, though its heart may be crammed full of anger, hate, and envy, of hidden and evil schemes of murder, and though its tongue may be loaded with curses and blasphemies. That is the kind of holiness our papists have. They have become past masters at this business. To keep their holiness from being condemned and themselves from being bound by Christ’s Word, they have generously helped Him by deducing twelve counsels from His Word. These Christ did not command as necessary, but left them up to the free choice of each individual, to observe them as good advice if he wants to merit something more special than other people. It is a completely superfluous and dispensable bit of instruction.
If you ask them what their reasons are for deducing these counsels from Christ’s Word or how they prove them, they say: “Why if this were to be taught as it stands, that would impose too heavy a burden on Christian people.” That is exactly what the theologians at Paris have written against me publicly and impudently.27 A lovely reason indeed! It is a heavy burden for a Christian to be friendly to his neighbor and not to let him suffer need, to treat him the way everyone wants to be treated. Because it seems to them to be too much of a burden, they have to say that it was not commanded, but left to everyone’s free choice to do or not as he pleases, without burdening the man who cannot or will not do it. That is the way to reach into Christ’s mouth, to lord it over His Word, and to make it mean anything you please. But He will not let Himself be fooled this way, nor will He cancel the judgment that He has pronounced here when He says: “Whoever does not have a better piety, will be shut out of heaven and damned.” Or, as follows later: “A man shall be liable to the hell of fire if he says to his brother, ‘You fool.’ ” From this it is easy to figure out whether this was recommended or commanded.
They have also found a little gloss to support their lies. They say: “It is indeed a command that we should hold back anger and rancor in our heart, but not the signs of anger.” That is what we call in German “to forgive but not to forget,” to plan that you will not get angry nor do anything wrong, but that you will deny your neighbor any kindness and show him not a single good word or marks of friendship. Now ask God Himself and Christ why He did not deny His kindness to those who were crucifying Him, blaspheming Him, and shamefully ridiculing Him, but prayed for them and said (Luke 23:34): “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” They were the most despicable kind of scoundrels, and He could well have been angry with them and punished them. If He had wanted to be angry with us, His blasphemous and idolatrous enemies, He would not have shed His blood for us and died for us, but would have stayed up there in heaven and said, in keeping with this gloss: “I will forgive, but I will not forget.” We would all have remained the devil’s property, and no man could have escaped hell. In short, this is an abominable and damnable gloss, and it is a sin and a shame that anyone in Christendom should have the effrontery to teach something like this, in opposition to such a clear and obvious text. They have smeared up all their books with these lies, and now they are making an impudent effort to defend them. This is to help us to see and recognize Pharisees and hypocrites, as Christ describes them here and elsewhere. With their special works they make a show of their great sanctity, but they show no hesitation in transgressing the commandments of God and teaching others to do the same.
Anger is indeed necessary sometimes, but only in those whose responsibility it is, and only if it does not go beyond the punishment of sin and evil. Thus when you see another man sinning and you warn and urge him to stop it, such anger is Christian and brotherly, yes, even fatherly. You see pious parents punishing their children, not in order to hurt or harm them, but to keep them from mischief and evil. That is also the way the government must be angry. Here it applies that there should be no anger in the heart, and yet there must be signs and marks of anger; for the voice is sharp, and the fist is rough, but the heart remains sweet and friendly, free of any malice. In other words, it is an anger of love, one that wishes no one any evil, one that is friendly to the person but hostile to the sin, as everyone can learn even from nature. But it is not right to use this as a screen for hiding and decorating the malice and envy of our heart against our neighbor, the way these sanctimonious scoundrels do and teach.
Now, in considering this commandment, Christ wants to say: “You have heard from the Pharisees that Moses commanded and that of old it was taught (Ex. 20:13): ‘You shall not kill.’ You use this to flatter and decorate yourselves, acting as though you faithfully taught and obeyed the laws of God which Moses taught and which the men of old received. You stand up and insist: ‘Here is Moses. He says, “You shall not kill.” ’ You are stuck on that word, and you refuse to allow any interpretation beyond the way it sounds in its coarsest sense. Thus simple-minded people have to say: ‘So it is. That is the way it reads in the book.’ Thus your constant harping and your worthless glosses obscure the words and make it impossible to see what they contain and mean.” Do you suppose that He is talking only about the fist when He says: “You shall not kill”? What does the word “you” mean? Not just your hand or foot or tongue or any other organ, but everything you are in body and soul. When I say to someone, “You should not do that,” I am not addressing only his fist but his total person. Even if I were to say, “Your fist should not do this,” I would not mean just the hand but the total person to whom the hand belongs; for the hand would do nothing by itself if the whole body with all its organs did not co-operate.
“You shall not kill,” therefore, is equivalent to saying: “You may find as many ways to kill as you have organs. You may use your hand, your tongue, your heart; you may use signs and gestures; you may use your eyes to look at someone sourly or to begrudge him his life; you may even use your ears if you do not like to hear him mentioned.—All this is included in ‘killing.’ Your heart and everything about you would be happy if he were already dead. Meanwhile your hand may be still, your tongue quiet, your eyes and ears muffled. Still your heart is full of murder and homicide.”
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:74). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Matthew 5:20 (Luther)

Matthew 5:20. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Here you see Him taking hold. He does not speak in generalities against plain people, but against the best people in the whole nation, the elite and the paragons of virtue, who shone like the sun in comparison with the others. In the whole nation no class was so highly praised and no titles so highly honored as that of the Pharisees and scribes. If you wanted to call a man holy, you would have to call him a Pharisee, just as among us the Carthusians or hermits have this reputation. Undoubtedly the disciples of Christ themselves supposed that there was no greater holiness to be found than the holiness of these men, and nothing was farther from their mind than that He would attack these people. He did not venture to call them by name right away. Instead of accusing certain individuals among them, He accused the entire class, condemning not particular vices or sins but all their righteousness and holy living. He goes so far as to exclude and reject them from the kingdom of heaven, to sentence26 them straight to hell-fire. It is as if He were to say of our time: “The priests and monks and those who are called ‘spiritual,’ all of them without exception, are damned to hell eternally, with all their works and ways, even when these are at their best.” Who could hear or bear such a sermon?

Note first that while He concedes that they have a righteousness and that they lead an upstanding and honorable life, He so utterly rejects it that if it does not improve, it is already condemned and everything it can accomplish is lost. Note, secondly, that He is talking about people who would like to get to heaven and who take the other life seriously. This the great rude mass does not care about; they do not ask about God or the Word of God, and what we say about the Gospel is preached for nothing to them. But it is preached to the others, to teach them that such righteousness is a false righteousness that must be salted and corrected, a deception both to themselves and to others, and a road that leads away to hell. It is also intended to illumine for them the real piety which the Law demands, as Christ will now show.

Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:73). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.