Jesus has just finished pointing out that all humanity is guilty of breaking the Law. He has been using illustrations directly related to the culture of the times in order to relate to and get the attention of the crowd. But how did the subject of divorce fit in?
Divorce was Being Abused
The message Jesus was conveying was by no means a diatribe about divorce. Jesus is simply telling us here that marriage is sacred and binding. The rabbis in different sects during these times had two different ideas about divorce. One sect was really lax and one sect was strict.
Basically, the lax sect was teaching the men (remember only men could legally divorce, women had no rights), that they could put away their wives for any displeasure, so they were. Men were changing their wives quickly and often. Putting a stop to this practice and abuse of divorce, Jesus clarifies for any who would question what was the proper procedure. Only for the sake of adultery could a man divorce a woman. This would actually be a moot point, because the law would see the woman stoned if she were guilty of adultery, so divorcing her would be pointless.
Continuing with the theme of making oaths, Jesus brings to attention other verbal commitments besides marriage, teaching that all oaths are binding. Jesus teaches in Matthew 5 It is better to not make oaths. We simply need to do what we say. Be people of our word. A very good reason Jesus spoke on this was because the religious leaders were teaching that oaths omitting God’s name weren’t binding. Men would be encouraged to make an oath like this if they thought they would not really be able to keep the commitment. Basically, they swore an oath by someone else’s name. For example, that might say, “I swear on my grandmother’s grave I will do this thing.”
If your name was good and you had a strong character, you would keep your word and swear under no one’s name. You were known by your deeds. You were reliable.
What would it have meant in antiquity to go the extra mile?
Jews were under Roman rule and often forced into slave labor. They would have to walk miles with heavy loads of bricks and building materials. It would have meant a great deal to add one more mile to a journey carrying such a heavy load in great agony. And Jesus is quite possibly encouraging us to go naked, too, because before going the extra mile we have just been instructed to give not only our outer garment, but our tunic. And by letting someone slap us not just on one cheek, but on two, we have been disgraced on top of that. During these times, a slap was a testimony of disgrace and meant someone was inferior. It was the ultimate public humiliation. By turning the other cheek, one was rising above this and willingly being doubly disgraced.
At this point in the Sermon, surely there came murmurs and frowns. Many may have gotten up and walked away as His address was becoming too hard to hear. Were the words Jesus was sowing falling on any good soil, or was the ground too hard?
The Challenge to the People
What Jesus is requiring here would have been profound, radical and unheard of. Completely unorthodox. How challenging would it have been for the people to let go of tradition and learn a better way?
Still there is something even deeper here. In Mosaic Law, there was the “eye for eye” thing. But there was also a law that if someone was murdered, a close relative of the deceased could send a blood avenger to seek vengeance. Life for life. We see in movies today the theme of vengeance. While it seems dark and extreme to us, it was lawful under Mosaic Law.
So, it would be quite something for someone to lie down or surrender their rights for vengeance, to let a life of their loved one go unavenged. The people would marvel at Jesus’ words for even suggesting this and have to get their heads around it. What! Jesus words were so radical!
Written by Jori Sams
Jori Sams is a Christian author and freelance writer with nearly 2000 published pieces on the Internet, with over 1500 being published by Yahoo. Her books are published through Writeious Books. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her following the sun…