Lord, have mercy: This is going to be very controversial.
Do you ever get in a fight with a significant other? Do you ever hear one statement made out of ignorance, and then make the same kind of statement back to show how ignorant it is? I do, all the time. Responding with similar preposterous ideas is normal, perhaps common, in order to show in a loving manner exactly what is amiss with your partner’s perception of you, how you ought to behave, where you are at in your life, etc. Irony is at its best when revealing reality hidden behind blinded human perception. It’s like seeing your own reflection in the stillness of a lake. In seeing your reflection, you know not only what you look like, but also that there is more to the lake beneath the surface images.
Now, here’s the tricky part, where we walk on that water: What if God in Christ was reflecting the Pharisees back to them, when he made it plain that he was addressing the context of their interpretations of the Law? “But I say to you…” is a common phrase in the Greek New Testament when Jesus is addressing issues of the Law and its usage in 1st Century Israel. Because of that phrase, the debate over the role of the Law, and Jesus’ illuminations of it, have ranged in the Protestant churches from “no more Law” (Dispensationalism), to “the ineffectiveness of the Law” (Lutheranism), to “the essence of the Law” (traditional Calvinism), to “a new, superior Law” (New Covenant Theology, or emerging Calvinism).
Putting all other theology aside for just a moment, what if there is a larger point than any of these? What if, God help us, the point of Jesus’ interaction with the misinformed understanding of the Pharisees is that there is more to God than the “surface reflection” of the Law? Namely, that adding to the Law at all (in either direction) is ridiculous, because the Law itself is only meant to point to the absurdity of living by superficial appearance or mere words?
Take, for example, the concept of adultery. Did you know that according to Jesus’ literal words in Matthew 5, that if you divorce your spouse you cause adultery? That if you remarry anyone, you commit adultery? That if you look lustfully at anyone, you commit adultery? And yet, Jesus is gracious and interacts with women who committed adultery multiple times (John 4, John 8), and he does it as equals. What if Jesus’ point is, “Stop talking about committing adultery! Stop labeling actions and living by earning your right to exist. Get at what’s real!”
Indeed. What if Jesus’ real point for us is that we need to get what’s real, to find peace when we realize we can’t live up to even a practical standard for a code of conduct, to stop hierarchically determining who is better and worse, to realize that life is in Christ instead of by superficial reflections or appearances?
Indeed. To live is Christ.