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The Sermon on the Mount - part 3

How did Jesus teach?

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness". (Matthew 6:22-23).

Any Jew listening to this would know that this absolutely nothing to do with light and darkness. It was a popular saying at that time, that if someone had a "good eye" then they were generous, if they had a "bad eye" then they were mean spirited.

The Mishnah says, "The person with a good eye gave the 40th part of the first fruit of the heave offering for the maintaining of the priests, while the person with the evil eye gave only a 60th." It also says that "he that gives, but wants a monopoly on giving and does not want others to be able to give too is considered to have an evil eye."

Generosity is a good thing and a positive influence on your well-being, so that your body "will be full of light". This makes sense of the next verse, which, otherwise, may seem a bit detached and 'off the point'.

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

So Jesus is talking about how we use our personal finances, not our eyesight.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you". (Matthew 7:1-2)

Not everything that Jesus taught was new and unique, much of it was simply his take on a rabbinical saying of the time. This is a good example. The Talmud says, "Rabbi Hillel said, 'Judge not your neighbor until you have come into his place.'" It also says, "Whatever measure a man meets, it shall be measured to him again." "Rabbi Meier said, 'The measure by which one measures will be measured out to him,'" The Talmud states, "All the measures have ceased, except the rule 'measure for measure' has not ceased." To follow this theme into familiar territory, how about this one - "Rabbi Yochanan bar Kokba said, 'Do they say, "Take the splinter our of your own eye?" We are taught to remove the beam from your own eye.'" In another Rabbinic statement, Rabbi Tarfon said, "I wonder of there is anyone in this generation that accepts reproof? For when one says, 'Remove the mote from your eye,' he would answer, 'Remove the beam that is in between your eyes.'"

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets". (Matthew 7:12)

There's a fairly well known story that illustrates this principle. It is recorded in The Talmud and speaks of Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus. "Once a pagan approached Shammai and said to him, "I will become a convert, but only if you can teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot." Shammai drove him away with a yardstick which he was holding. Then the pagan put the same request to Hillel, and Hillel answered him, "Do not do to anyone else what is hateful to you. This is the entire Torah. All the rest is only a commentary about it. Now go and learn."

Steve Maltz
October 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Jesus Man of Many Names)

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