Differences In Jesus’ Message From Judaism In The Gospel Of Matthew

1587 words - 7 pages

By the time of Jesus’ life in Palestine, participation in the Pan-Hellenic world was redefining what it meant to be Jewish. Hellenistic Jews adapted to the new culture, while the Pharisees fought this assimilation by choosing a strict interpretation of Jewish law (Smarr 1/18). Into this picture steps Jesus. It is my interpretation that the Jesus depicted by the Gospel of Matthew does not intend to be a radical revolutionary seeking to establish an entirely new faith, but a reformer attempting to revive the moral and spiritual strength of Judaism, yet Jesus’ message of love and mercy as a formula for human relationship departs radically from the traditional Jewish emphasis on law and ...view middle of the document...

Jesus further upholds the essence to the Jewish faith with a position on law that would probably form the basis of arguments that interpret Jesus’ message to be merely a mild reform of Judaism, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill…. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (NOAB Matt 5:17-19). He upholds this most visible of Jewish tenets initially without reservation, but contradicts it later as I will discuss. Indeed, Jesus’ message may not have been as warmly accepted by the masses if he had not firmly confined himself within the Judaism of the past.
It is in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus begins what will prove to be a quite radical moral revision of Judaism: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (NOAB Matt 5:21-22). It is the spirit behind the laws that is important; not the exact wordings of the laws themselves. Thus Jesus can be claimed to be restoring the “true” Judaism that was lost to an emphasis on law and tradition that smothered the moral and spiritual side of the religion. Then Jesus breaks with tradition by rejecting the principle of “lex talionis” that had been a strong principle of Judaic law, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (NOAB Matt 5:39-40). He instead emphasizes mercy, a principle he reaffirms later in the parable of the unforgiving servant (NOAB Matt 18:21-35) and in the Lord’s Prayer (NOAB Matt 6:12-15, Coogan). This is a major departure from the Jewish social structure of a covenant of law and justice following from it. Jesus in essence calls for a utopian ideal of relationships based on respect for the fellow man and forgiveness. His belief that people should and can “be perfect... as your heavenly father is perfect” (NOAB Matt 5:48) helps explains what he means when saying “…the kingdom of heaven has come near” (NOAB Matt 4:17, Matt 10:7); heaven will not come literally to earth as in the day of judgement, as Paul seems to believe will happen imminently (NOAB Rom 13:11, NOAB 1 Cor 7:26), but Jesus will bring the perfection that heaven symbolizes to mankind to hopefully accept.
This message of morality is accompanied by one emphasizing faith in the Jesus/Lord unit, a value that had always been present in Judaism but never to the degree that Jesus requires. This address the loss of spirituality that resulted from the Pharisees’ emphasis on tradition as the basis of society. Jesus repeatedly criticizes the Pharisees as “hypocrites” (Cousland 1747) that just go through the motions of prayer...

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