In Mt. 6:12 and 14 disciples are to forgive everybody. Their Father’s forgiveness should lead them to forgive the “debts” (6:12), that is, the sins (6:14), of others.
Perhaps Jesus uses the word “debts” (in 6:12) partly because one of the main sins among the families and kingdoms of earth is burdening others with heavy debts–and demanding they repay. Giving help to others is not really showing mercy if it is done to make them “indebted.” Given enough “loans,” some will never be able to repay; so the giver can demand other favors and can dominate their lives. Too many of the rich and powerful in the world remain dominant because they refuse to forgive the debts of others below them.
Some of those dominated by such debts decide to fight back; the result can be violent. Major and minor wars have been fought due to the failure to forgive–on both sides.
Disciples who forgive because their Father is forgiving will continue to be forgiven by God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Mt. 5:9). But if disciples do not forgive, their Father will also not forgive them. The Father’s final forgiveness is not unconditional; God’s final judgment will be unmerciful towards those who refused to forgive. Blessed only are the merciful, for they will receive mercy in the end (Mt. 5:7).
So forgiveness includes words and actions as well as attitudes: those who forgive react with gentleness (meekness), show mercy, and make peace (Mt. 5:5,7,9). More specifically, forgiveness includes not “murdering” brothers or sisters (fellow disciples) with condemning words, not divorcing wives (who displease for whatever reason), not punishing the “sinner” (no eye for an eye), and not hating (or killing) enemies (see Mt. 5:21-26,31-32,38-48). What disciples say and do to those who sin against them reveals whether they have forgiven or still harbor hatred. While children of the Father continue to speak against such sins, they do so without condemning brothers or sisters and without punishing enemies.
After focusing on the Father in heaven and the coming of this Father’s kingly power–whose Spirit empowers a new kingdom of obedient children who do their Father’s will–the Lord’s prayer turns to a few simple requests. Since God knows everything we need, and since we don’t need much of what we want, this prayer can be short and to the point.
The first request for “our daily bread” (Mt. 6:11) reflects the simple life of “the poor in the Spirit.” The same Spirit that enlightens and enables children of the Father also gives them self-control: they give up their former greed for great things and become content to have simply daily bread.
This request is not just about me; it’s not about just giving me my daily bread; it’s about giving us our daily bread. Children of the heavenly Father are part of a family of brothers and sisters who ask “our Father” to give us our daily bread. The Father gives bread to the family by leading some in the family to help others in the family–both near and far. If they give simple gifts like bread even to enemies (see Mt. 5:42), how much more should they share their bread with brothers and sisters in need. For they know that in this new kingdom it is not the rich who are blessed; rather, blessed are the merciful, who show mercy and compassion to others in need.
Obedient children of the Father, who are likewise faithful disciples of Jesus (the Son), are led by the Spirit to seek daily how they can show simple generosity to those who lack daily bread–humbly helping where there is need, instead of selfishly catering to their own greed.
Christmas celebrates the coming of the Messiah, the anointed king. And this king, Jesus, tells his disciples–his future kingdom–to pray to their heavenly Father: thy kingdom come (Mt. 6:10). This is the kingdom of their heavenly Father, and of the Father’s anointed king. The Greek word for kingdom here includes both kingship (kingly power) and the kingdom over which the king rules.
Father, it’s your kingdom that should come–rather than other kings and kingdoms that people want to come because they believe their promises (propaganda) and have faith in their power to improve their nation. Even within the kingdoms of earth, various political parties plot to gain power and rule over their kingdom; hope springs eternal for a great new leader who will rule a glorified kingdom.
Most Jews in Jesus’ time resented the kingdom of Rome, which had come and occupied Israel. Jews loyal to their local synagogues, led by scribes (rabbis) and Pharisees, hoped for a coming kingdom liberated from Rome and ruled over by the scribes and Pharisees–especially their most powerful rabbis (“fathers”), like those already in the Sanhedrin (in Jerusalem). When Jesus’ disciples pray for the kingdom of their heavenly Father to come, they also reject the hopes and dreams of those Jews who pray for their favorite national fathers to prevail as leaders of their Jewish kingdom.
Matthew’s gospel emphasizes the coming of the “kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven comes first of all from heaven. (The phrase can also be translated as the “kingdom from heaven.”) As at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit comes from heaven (Mt. 3:16); this Spirit will come to enlighten and empower new disciples on earth; they will then be part of the kingdom of heaven and please their Father, the one in the heavens (in contrast to the ruling fathers on earth). So this prayer asks the Spirit to come (as the kingly power from on high) and enable them to be obedient children as part of the family (kingdom) of their revered heavenly Father: thy kingdom come, thy will be done–on earth as it is in heaven.
Moreover, as disciples of king Jesus obey his commands, they will also be the light of the world. They will participate in a kingdom that comes to other kingdoms, the kingdoms of earth, and shines among them with the good works commanded by Jesus, so that some will glorify and revere their special Father, the one in the heavens (see Mt. 5:14-16; 28:18-20).
Beyond the daily coming of the Spirit and being empowered to do what the king commands, the prayer also looks forward to the final end of history; in the end, this kingdom of heaven will become the only kingdom on (the new) earth. And this kingdom will never end.
We admit that we are not perfect–and cannot really hope to be perfect. So why does Jesus say to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect?
In Matthew 5:48 Jesus’ words about perfection conclude his contrasts (in Mt. 5:21-48) between what his disciples have heard before (from the scribes in the synagogues) and what Jesus now commands. The last contrast is about one of the great commands from the law of Moses: love your neighbor (5:43); and Jesus adds another command from the law of Moses: hate your enemy.
The first phrase, “love your neighbor,” quotes Leviticus 19:18. The neighbor of Lev. 19:17-18 is defined as “your brother,” or “the sons of your own people.” So this law, like the rest of the law of Moses, applies to those in the kingdom of Israel; those outside, the Gentiles, are not neighbors or brothers since they are not “the sons of your own people.”
The second phrase, “but hate your enemy,” can also be found in the law of Moses (though not quoted word for word). A few laws of Moses do speak of doing good to enemies (as in Exodus 23:4-5), and not oppressing strangers (Gentiles) in their land (23:9). But Ex. 23:23-24 says when Israel reaches the promised land, populated by Canaanites and other Gentiles, God will destroy those idolatrous Gentiles; Israel is to utterly overthrow them. These are the enemies God will drive out of their land; Israel is to drive them out, so they will not cause Israel to sin (Ex. 23:27-33).
Similarly, the love command of Lev. 19:18 is followed later by commands in Lev. 26:7-8 about Israel chasing (Gentile) enemies (in the promised land), who will fall before them by the sword. Deuteronomy 20:1-20 is a whole chapter about rules for waging “holy war” against (Gentile) enemies of Israel. Jewish scribes (rabbis) during Jesus’ time were also eager to free the kingdom of Israel from Gentile influence, including the Romans whose world empire extended into Israel.
Jesus’ righteousness, however, again fulfills the law (of Moses) on a new level: he commands his disciples to love their enemies. Disciples who patiently love their enemies and pray for them will be true children of their heavenly Father. For their Father gives sunshine and rain to both the evil and the good (Mt. 5:44-45).
So when Jesus concludes by saying, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, this perfection is summarizing the preceding context of loving everyone, even enemies. Those who only show love to certain ones are not perfect as God is perfect. God’s perfect love is not partial when beneficial rain and sun are given to both the righteous and unrighteous. Likewise, God’s children must not be partial; they should show love both to their brothers or sisters and their enemies. If they love (pray for and do good to) even those who persecute them, their love will be perfect, like that of their Father.
In contrast, loyal “children” (citizens) of earthly “fathers” (rulers) who hate and kill their national or ethnic enemies have chosen the partial (imperfect) righteousness of their kingdom of earth. Jesus’ (perfect) new command for the kingdom of heaven rules out those (partial) traditional commands of the kingdoms of earth–including those of the kingdom of Israel.
When people cry out for justice now, it often means they want someone who’s guilty to be punished. “An eye for an eye” says the law of Moses. A punishment appropriate for the crime was considered “justice” in the kingdom of Israel (and other kingdoms of the earth). It’s biblical.
But Jesus tells his disciples not to punish like that (Mt. 5:38-39). Unlike the kingdom of Israel, Jesus’ new kingdom of disciples is to function on a higher level–on a nonviolent, patiently gentle level. A kingdom of earth with civil laws and punishments cannot function on Jesus’ level. The righteousness (justice) of the kingdom of heaven is different from the righteousness (justice) of the kingdom of Israel, or any other kingdom of earth. So this command of Moses is passing away, now surpassed by Jesus new fulfillment of the law. Jesus’ new law replaces this old law.
Instead of reacting to an evil person by executing the same evil against them, Jesus’ disciples are to respond with the justice of Jesus. The first example Jesus gives of how to do this is: whenever someone slaps a disciple on the right cheek, the disciple should turn the other cheek. Since most people are right handed, when they hit the right cheek of another it is with the back of their right hand. This is more of an insult than an injury. An evil person is insulting a disciple due to controversial prophetic words or unconventional righteous deeds (compare Mt. 5:10-12).
The Greek word for slap in Mt. 5:39 is used again in Mt. 26:67 where, after the high priest and (national) council in Jerusalem condemn Jesus to death, some slap him. In Jn. 18:22, in the same context of Jesus before the high priest, a police officer of the high priest slaps Jesus because his words challenge the high priest. Jesus does not slap him back; he turns his face to the one who slapped him and challenges him (Jn. 18:23). Jesus asks the officer to tell him what he said wrong, and if it was not wrong, why did he slap?
Turning the other cheek thus means disciples of Jesus continue to speak boldly, even if it means they continue (to “offer” their cheeks) to be slapped. When slaps are meant to stop controversial mouths, the appropriate response is to continue patiently to speak against evil, thereby offering one’s cheek anew.
It is very sad that literal murder invades churches. In Mt. 5:21 Jesus quotes the law of Moses about not murdering; this command was for the kingdom of Israel. Literal murder in Israel was against their law.
But then Jesus goes on to fulfill this law on a new level; he introduces a new focus and context: the kingdom of heaven. In this new kingdom of disciples that Jesus is initiating, everyone who is angry with his brother is in danger of murder (Mt. 5:22). The word brother signifies the new context: the new family of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus has described how his disciples are to be light in the world and thus glorify their Father (5:14-16); and he has blessed disciples who make peace since they will be called the children of God (5:9), making them brothers and sisters. Disciples who do the will of the Father are Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Mt. 12:50).
In Mt. 5:22 Jesus illustrates the anger he has in mind by depicting angry words against a brother or sister. An angry disciple who says raka (an Aramaic word) to a brother or sister (disciple) must face the council; an angry disciple who says more (using the Greek word moros) to a brother or sister (disciple) could face the fiery hell.
Both words would be strong repudiations of a fellow disciple; either word could condemn a fellow brother or sister. The Greek word for fool in 5:22 (moros) is also used in 7:26 for the one who hears Jesus’ words but does not do them. Thus, to call a brother or sister a fool is to accuse them of not being a true disciple. Words of anger that condemn a brother or sister are the same as murder. (In Mt. 23:17 Jesus angrily calls the scribes and Pharisees blind fools; this is not “murder” because they are not part of the family of the kingdom of heaven; see 23:13; 5:20).
Since Jesus’ warnings for disciples in 5:22 have to do with the family of the kingdom of heaven, the council mentioned would be a “family council,” not a council of the kingdom of Israel (like those led by chief priests or scribes and Pharisees). Compare the process in 18:15-17 that seeks the repentance of a brother or sister who sins. If the one sinned against fails to convince the sinner, the process leads to larger family circles: first two or three others, then–if that fails–the whole church (as a family council) confronts the brother or sister who sinned.
For an angry disciple to categorically condemn another brother or sister, without processing it through the family, means the angry disciple is himself in danger of judgment from the family council and of condemnation from God. The angry brother who judges/condemns another brother simply because of a small sin or minor issue (a speck in his eye) simply shows that he has a much larger sin: murder (a log in his eye) (Mt. 7:1-5).
When Jesus began to announce his new kingdom of heaven, he also began to fulfill prophecies about the dawning of a great light. In Mt. 4:15-17 Jesus began this mission in “Galilee of the Gentiles;” there the people (in darkness) saw a great light: Jesus.
After Jesus began to gather disciples, the nucleus of his new kingdom, he told them they were (also) the light of the world–a world of Gentiles as well as Jews (Mt. 4:18-22; 5:1-2,14). Jesus was pointing to their future world mission.
Like a “city on a hill,” they will stand out and shine a special light in the darkness of the world’s cities and kingdoms (Mt. 5:14). That true light cannot, and must not, be hidden from the dangerous darkness. Like a lamp in a house, the function of this light is to give light to all those in the “house” (world) (Mt. 5:15). Unfortunately, the darkness will try to put out that light.
Nevertheless, king Jesus commands his disciples to let their light shine before the people so they will see their good works and glorify their Father, the one in the heavens (Mt. 5:16). Their special righteousness of meekness and mercy (see Mt. 5:5-7) will lead some from every nation to join this new kingdom and family; like their king, this kingdom of disciples will remain gentle and kind and merciful. Jesus will make his disciples fishers of men (people) all over the world (see Mt. 4:19).
Their good works and words will be the good fruit of worthy repentance; they will exhibit Jesus’ new righteousness, empowered by (the Spirit from) heaven. As a result, some will see their unusual works (of righteousness), hear their uncommon gospel (of the kingdom), and glorify their unsurpassed Father (in heaven). These new disciples will turn away from their previous devotion to powerful fathers in the families and kingdoms of earth; those ruling fathers pursue their own personal interests, exhibiting works that are often not gentle, kind, or merciful.