Schwager on Matthew 5

Excerpt from Raymund Schwager’s Jesus in the Drama of Salvation: Toward a Biblical Doctrine of Redemption (Crossroads, 1999).


On Matthew 5:21-48 in the Sermon on the Mount

From Act 1: “The Dawning of the Kingdom of God” / pages 41-44

Even the interpretation of the law, as Jesus proposed it in the Sermon on the Mount with its antitheses in Matthew 5:21-48, introduced not merely a “radicalization” in the sense of an absolute orientation toward the God of the basileia. It was at the same time defined by the concern for the new gathering. The correct interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is certainly difficult, and the discussion of it goes back a long way. It stretches from the traditional teaching concerning the commandments and counsels and the Lutheran distinction between the Christian person and the secular person, across the ethical rigorism of the enthusiasts and the ethics of conviction of liberal theology, to the modern proposals (interim ethics, contrast ethics, the ethics of love, eschatological and theological ethics, etc.). In fact careful distinctions are needed in framing the questions in ethics and pastoral theology. But prior to these there is a strictly theological question, and this concerns the connection between the kingdom of God, the new mode of human behavior, and the new gathering. If the basileia fully arrives among humankind only with the founding of the new people, if the new gathering of Israel is an essential constituent of Jesus’ proclamation, then the Sermon on the Mount might describe exactly what is necessary for human behavior, so that the new people might be really different from the old, and all those evils which were never overcome in the history of Israel might finally be conquered. Before we ask how “realistic” the high demands are, we should notice that Jesus spoke to his hearers of the love of the heavenly Father and called them to a perfect trust, by means of which he hoped to create the new community. If people act as the Sermon on the Mount expects, then the new people becomes a reality. The high demands are not arbitrary commands but, objectively speaking, they prove to be absolutely necessary if the new life is really to begin.

The inner connection between the individual demands of the Sermon on the Mount becomes particularly clear if they are compared with the analysis of conflict as it has been elaborated by R. Girard from literature which is permeated by Christianity. According to this, people are fundamentally creatures of desire, and their aspirations are not autonomous but are determined, as if by osmosis, (1) by a desire which fastens on models so that they act out of imitation. Consequently, if the aspirations are instinctively directed toward something which another person’s desire, mediated by a model, is already longing for, then two appetites are “unintentionally” aiming over and over again at the same object, which must awaken reinforced desire, rivalry, and finally aggression.

The indication that desire is imitated from others in a quasi-osmotic or nonconscious way may help to make sense of judgments in the Sermon on the Mount which otherwise leave us simply in a state of puzzlement. Why are getting angry and throwing out insults (idiot, fool) judged in the same way as murder (Matt. 5:21ff.), and why should a lecherous look be already adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:27)? If a desire can be picked up so spontaneously from others that one’s own aspirations are determined thereby even before one is fully conscious of it and before one can explicitly react to it, then anger and the lustful look inevitably have an effect on a community. They set profoundly in motion an interwoven dynamic of desire, which exerts continual pressure and can easily lead to adultery and murder. Whether the result of desire is then an act of adultery or physical murder, the consequence of desire becomes no longer a matter of greater or lesser righteousness but almost entirely of external circumstances and stability of social regulations.

If the “old” behavior, which in its instinctive imitation inevitably produces evil, is really to be overcome, then the conversion must be very radical and must likewise start with inner desire (see Matt. 5:27-30). Spontaneous words of aggression and lecherous desires should be taken just as seriously as completed acts. The decisive thing is that the pattern of imitation should be broken, which is why precisely those demands in which Jesus turns against “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” (Matt. 5:38-42) are especially important. The entire ancient system of the sacred and revenge rests on the “wisdom” of this imitative, negative symmetry, which must be overcome by a gracious human goodness which mirrors a preceding divine mercy (Matt. 5:31ff., 38-42). Only then can the kingdom of God really commence on earth. Since this desiring imitation begins so instinctively and subtly that no one can fully control it in themselves or in others, nobody may judge another (Matt. 7:1-5) and all are in need of continual forgiveness and of constantly renewed reconciliation (Matt. 5:23-26; 6:14ff.). Such action is possible only if the fundamental desire is freed from its instinctive imitation. For this a prayer is needed which does not simply babble like the gentiles (Matt. 6:7, 16-18), but which expresses complete trust in the heavenly Father (Matt. 6:5-13) and thus frees a person from self-accusing thoughts and the cares that wear one down.

The regulations of the Sermon on the Mount consequently do not contain random demands of God; they only show what sort of conversion and what kind of new behavior are objectively necessary if people who come from a world of desire, rivalry, and the sacred vengeance system are to be really reconciled with one another in obedience to the will of God and to form a new community. What may at first appear as unrealistic is in truth nothing other than the model, contained within the dawning kingdom of God, of a new gathering and a new society which is different from all other societies. In these societies revenge, violence, or other retributional systems keep human passions under a certain external control, cover over deep unrest, and temporarily stabilize the societies, without being able to overcome the actual evil.

Through the experience of God as Abba such a deep communicative process was made possible between Jesus and his hearers that many were healed of their bodily afflictions and freed — like the possessed — from their psychic states. Was this communicative healing event able to reach even their innermost soul and their freedom? This was the question which decided whether Jesus’ proclamation actually led to a perceivable dawning of the kingdom of God. The nearness of the kingdom was not fixed in advance, but partly depended on how far people allowed themselves to be touched in their innermost selves. The proclamation of the kingdom of God was an event which indeed rested initially on the new turning of God to sinners, but in second place it involved also the preparedness of the hearers. The event could consequently succeed or fail. The kind of nearness of God’s kingdom was conditioned by this. Was Jesus able to touch people so deeply with his new experience of God that they also were overwhelmed by fatherly love and allowed themselves to be taken completely into the service of a new community life, or did their old desires remain the deepest ones and thus serve also the defense mechanisms against God and their neighbors?

Since the proclamation of Jesus involved a fundamental risk, we again ask the question about Jesus’ role in this event. Did the success of his mission depend on the direct result he achieved with his hearers? Was he so identified with the service of the basileia that an initial failure would have meant that he himself had failed, or did the basileia depend ultimately so much on his own person that he could take it forward at the beginning all by himself in the case of an initial failure? Was the person conditioned by his message, and did God act only with a view to the kingdom, or did Jesus’ proclamation result from the particular nature of his person, and did God act in a special way both on him and through him? The interpretation of his entire subsequent destiny depends on the answer to these questions.

From Act 3: “The Bringer of Salvation Brought to Judgment” / pages 93-95

Jesus’ Conduct toward His Enemies

In the series of appeals which makes up the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demanded of his hearers that they love their enemies and not offer resistance to evil. Because of the rejection and the hostile reaction given to him, he was challenged to put his words into practice. But it was not just a case of the coherence between his proclamation and his own actions, for the threatened fate of a violent death posed a question which had not been addressed in so many words in the Sermon on the Mount. Within the framework of the basileia message, the willing love of those who heard it was intended to invite any opponents to conversion. This is why in the Sermon on the Mount, the blow on the cheek, being cheated of a shirt, and being coerced to walk a mile with another, are mentioned (Matt. 5:38-41). The question of a death threat remained at this level unconsidered, as this issue would not have arisen in the case of a successful kingdom of God because enemies would have been converted by the willing love they encountered. But because of its rejection, the situation which Jesus had not at first addressed became pressing. He had to give an answer which would lead toward a resolution, and he gave it by going in his own behavior beyond what he himself had demanded. In view of the evil which confronted him, he did not fall back on the old mechanisms of retribution. He answered the redoubling of evil by taking his love to the point of a readiness to accept without any resistance the death with which he was threatened.

Over and above the high ethical example which Jesus hereby gave, we should look particularly at the implicit theological message which was expressed in his new way of acting. Since his whole public ministry took place within the framework of the dawning kingdom of God, after its rejection the question arose as to how God would react to those enemies who were not won over by the offer of unconditional forgiveness. In the parable of the unmerciful creditor, the master calls back the servant who does not pass on to his fellow servant the kindness that he has received, and he allows the harsh punishment to be carried out on him to the full. Because of the rejection of his message, it could also have been Jesus’ task to give a foretaste of the coming, threatening judgment in his own actions. But he did not do so, at least not in the hitherto known form of judgment, but by his behavior he doubled his already gracious message of love of one’s enemy and thereby indicated that the mercy of God goes even beyond that spoken of in the parable of the unmerciful creditor. His action consequently points to a dimension of God’s love for his enemies whose depths are still to be plumbed.

Jesus’ behavior is all the more striking in that it not only conflicted with the purely political picture of the Messiah, but also equally clearly diverged from the expectations which the picture of a more spiritual Messiah awakened, as found for example in the extracanonical Psalm of Solomon 17. Similarly to the parable of the wicked winegrowers or to Jesus’ saying about the murder of prophets, the history of Israel is depicted in this psalm as an unbroken series of disloyalties and sins. Because from the king down to the people all have transgressed in a similar way, judgment rightly intervened in the (first) destruction of the holy city and of the throne of David. But as things did not go any better afterward and the few just people were harshly persecuted, the psalmist asks that God might raise up for these persecuted people a new son of David. The awaited one will be no ordinary political leader, for he trusts neither in kingdom nor in steed, rider, bow, or the mass of soldiers (17:37). Rather, God himself will be king and his anointed will be strong in trust in God alone (17:38), by means of which he will assemble the holy people in Jerusalem (17:28-31).

So far the picture of the coming son of David is easily harmonized with what Jesus proclaimed and did. But already within this picture there can be seen an important difference. Before the Messiah builds up again the tribes of Israel as the people consecrated to the Lord, he strikes the wicked leaders with the “word of his mouth” (17:39) as with a “rod of iron” (17:26) and purifies Jerusalem from all pagans and all criminals. The pagan nations will from then on be under his yoke, and people will come from the ends of the earth to marvel at the splendor in Jerusalem. We can see that neither in the royal kingdom of God nor in the trust in God, neither in the assessment of past history nor in the messianic expectation, neither in the hope of a new establishment of the tribes of Israel as a holy people nor in the broadening of view to include the pagan nations, are there structural differences between the proclamation of Jesus and the great picture of Psalm of Solomon 17. The only, though fundamental, difference lies in the question as to how God deals with his enemies. That the Messiah might share a meal with sinners is hard to imagine from the point of view of Psalm of Solomon 17; but in this context it would be simply outlandish to think that the Messiah could permit himself to be at the mercy of the criminals in Israel and the pagans. That is precisely why he is expected: so that he can finally put an end to the persecution of the just. As the Messiah acts entirely from trust in God, his way of behaving does not directly witness to a higher or lower moral ideal, but it is entirely concerned with the question of God. Jesus’ decision to hand himself over to the violence of his enemies is therefore charged with the highest theological significance. When this central aspect is overlooked, the heart of his message and of his mission is ignored.

From Systematic Considerations / pages 182-85, 187-91

The Cross and the Transformation of Evil

The unsolved problem of the Old Testament sacrificial cult would seem to make it impossible to develop a systematic interpretation of the death of Christ from that starting point. Certainly, the letter to the Hebrews sees the cross explicitly against the background of the cult, and it describes Christ as a high priest who offered a sacrifice. But the letter to the Hebrews can make these statements only because, by the use of numerous antitheses, it totally alters the concepts of both priest and sacrifice. First of all it separates Christ from the great, broad tradition of the Aaronite and Levite priesthood and links him with the priest king Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1-24), who is a marginal figure in the Old Testament and is mentioned there only briefly on two occasions (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4). As high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, Christ is the mediator of a different, new covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:1-13; 9:15), and to him belongs also a quite new priestly order. He does not have to offer sacrifice day after day for himself and the people (Heb. 7:25-28), nor does he enter an earthly sanctuary in order to sprinkle it with the blood of he-goats and bulls. Rather, he brought about a redemption once for all, and entered into the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 9:11-10:18). From the viewpoint of this new sacrifice it can be seen that the cultic sacrifices of the Old Testament brought about atonement only in the sense that people became “purified in the flesh” (Heb. 9:13). The letter to the Hebrews, then, expressly restricts the effectiveness of the earlier sacrifices to the realm of external cultic purity, whose purpose was to remind people of sins, without being able to bring about any inner healing: “But through these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year, for the blood of bulls and goats cannot possibly take away sins” (Heb. 10:3ff.). The verdict on the sacrificial cult is unambiguous: it was unable to bring about any actual purification from sins. This is why the letter to the Hebrews, despite its explicit relationship to the tradition of sacrifice, is able to take a critical line of thought on sacrifice and to note the paradoxical fact that Psalm 40:7-9 talks of God not demanding sacrifices and taking no pleasure in them, even though “these are offered according to the law” (Heb. 10:8). The letter to the Hebrews resolves the contradictory evidence of the Old Testament by relating the criticism of sacrifice directly to Christ, who with these words abolished the existing order and set up over against it obedience. The continuity of content between the Old and New Testament runs not through the cultic line, but through the line of criticism of the cult, which emphasizes obedience.

The letter to the Hebrews is able, through a massive hermeneutical reinterpretation, to take up on the one hand the whole metaphorical and symbolic meaning of the cult, but on the other hand to express something which is completely new in content. Through the confrontation of the cultic tradition with the tradition critical of sacrifice, it succeeds in creating, out of a problematic at the heart of the Old Testament, a complex symbol for the divine action and the divine will: God by the law commanded something which he himself did not specifically want, but which — in awakening consciousness of sin — was temporarily needed for humankind. This command to offer sacrifices was promulgated by the law because of its pedagogic and linguistic function and not because of its atoning effect. The new teaching is tied in with the cult only as an illustration, whereas the criticism of sacrifice is spelled out as Christ’s own words (Heb. 10:8ff.). What was a tradition competing with the cult in the Old Testament becomes in the letter to the Hebrews an authoritative pronouncement about this whole past practice of sacrifice.

There is, it is true, one point where the question arises as to whether the letter to the Hebrews might, after all, recognize a certain continuity of content between the Old Testament sacrifices and the death of Christ. The cult operated through blood (Heb. 9:7, 18-22), and Christ too offered himself as a sacrifice through his blood (Heb. 9:14). The Aaronite and Levite priests sprinkled with others’ blood (that of he-goats and bulls), whereas Christ entered the sanctuary with his own (Heb. 9:12; 10:19; 12:24). But does this difference (others’ or one’s own blood) abolish the continuity between the cult and Christ’s death, or is there a certain common basis in the shedding of blood?

The issue of the shedding of blood, so important for the letter to the Hebrews, points first to the need to examine and interrogate from a Christian perspective those theories of sacrifice arising from the study of religion which also emphasize the shedding of blood (the act of killing). The explicit statement that Christ offered a sacrifice with his own blood shows, moreover, that the problematic with which we began our reflections on sacrifice is in fact central. At the beginning of this section we asked how self-sacrifice is to be understood. If Christ identified himself not with the evil will of his opponents, but with their concrete action (crucifixion), did he not therefore fully agree to his being killed? Can one not also take the statement that Christ sacrificed himself as high priest “with his own blood” as an indication of the indirect killing of himself? In considering the fate of Jesus we have often come across the theme of God’s nonviolence. But now the more subtle question arises, whether we have to understand this concept in such a way that Christ, although he shunned all violence against others, finally turned that violence against himself — in self-sacrifice. Seeing things this way, could one not very easily link up the great Old Testament themes of judgment and God’s vengeance, the tradition of cultic killing, and also many New Testament utterances about judgment, with the message of nonviolence (toward others)? The cross would then be a sacrifice in the sense that the priest (Christ) did in fact kill something, namely, himself. Writing about the ethics of the early community, G. Theissen speaks of a “turning-around of aggression,” (2) and he thinks that “heightened aggressivity turned in upon itself could thus paradoxically swing around into positive acceptance of the other.” (3) There seem to be statements supporting such a view even in the Sermon on the Mount, which teaches nonviolence (toward others) especially clearly. If one member is seduced into evil, it should be plucked out or cut off, for it is better to be mutilated than to be damned with the whole body (Matt. 5:29ff.; 18:8ff.). Is there consequently a self-aggression in the service of a higher good? Because of this question we must once more go into the problematic of judgment at a new and deeper level. If the thesis that God in his anger directly struck and destroyed his Son by means of sinners (K. Barth) did not stand up to scrutiny, the more subtle problematic still remains, namely, whether he led the crucified one through obedience to self-aggression and thereby judged him. Christ would then have taken on himself the self-judgment of sinners in the sense that he did in full consciousness and freedom what sinners do in their blindness: judge and destroy themselves.

This question is not easy to answer, since we would need to feel our way into the inner attitude of Jesus, and the New Testament utterances make use of words which come up in different contexts and can therefore be interpreted in different ways. However the question is one with very great consequences. If the outcome is affirmative, then everything which we have worked out so far has to be looked at again in a completely fresh light, with considerable consequences for Christian spirituality and the practice of the faith.

In the Old Testament, with the exception of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, violent death was understood to imply only judgment and curse, while the New Testament sees the cross of Christ as positive. How is this difference to be understood? Since the Old Testament cult also attributes a positive atoning effect to the sacrificial death of animals, we must look into the question already addressed earlier in this investigation, namely, whether the formal element in atonement resides in the act of killing. The difference between the old and new order would consist in this, that in the former animals were killed daily, whereas in the latter Christ sacrificed and (indirectly) killed himself once for all.

The crucified one saw in his opponents people who ultimately did not know what they were doing, who, because of blindness, even in their actions were more victims than responsible agents. He himself was a victim insofar as he was killed and they were victims in killing, insofar as they were under the spell of an external power. For him, then, killing was an act done both to him and to them, even if in very differing ways. Both together were victims of that power which in fact kills: sin. At this deeper level, Jesus no longer stood over against his opponents, but he underwent together with them the blows of a destructive power, but in such a way that he alone experienced this suffering for what it was. Through his identification with his executioners, he suffered together with them the being killed by sin. Because of this common destiny, Paul can rightly say: “One has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Cor 5:14).

The “conversion” and transformation of evil began with Jesus including his opponents in his being killed, and thus consciously living through on their behalf that dimension in their action which enables us to say that the act of crucifying him was in fact something suffered. But he had not yet achieved the decisive act, for suffering would only have had a positive sense if we had to assume that God directly, willed such suffering as a punishment, which, however, we have already excluded. The crucial point was the transformation of passivity through his surrender. Because of his unreserved acceptance of the suffering which came to him, it was already more than something merely undergone. Suffering which is affirmed becomes a new form of activity.

All the synoptic Gospels on the one hand emphasize the suffering of the crucified one and on the other they clearly describe his dying as an activity. We find in Mark: “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed out the Spirit [exepneusen, usually translated “expired”]” (Mark 15:37; Matt. 27:50). The loud cry was an expression of the most extreme desolation, and with the breathing out of his Spirit he indicated at the same time a revelatory event (Mark 1:11; 9:7) which went out from Jesus as bearer of the Spirit. The breathing out of the Spirit is made even clearer in Luke: “And Jesus cried loudly, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit'” (Luke 23:46). Suffering is here understood unambiguously as surrendering and handing over the Spirit to the Father. Since Luke describes Jesus at the beginning of his ministry as the long awaited bearer of the Spirit (Luke 4:16-22; Acts 4:27; 10:38), the return of the Spirit to the Father means at the same time the fulfillment of the mission. The act of dying, the fulfillment of the mission, and the handing over of the Spirit to the Father consequently come together in the one event described by the letter to the Hebrews as the sacrifice of Christ.

Whoever in dying places himself in the hands of another person renounces entirely any further self-determination and hands himself over to the treatment of this other, to whom he thereby entrusts himself without reserve in love. Every act of surrender made during a person’s life has its limits, arising at the least from the demands of one’s own life and one’s own identity. At the moment of dying, these limits can be broken down. But since in death all a person’s strengths fail, death in itself is extremely ambiguous. Is it merely the passive undergoing of an inexorable limit, or can there be a surrender which goes beyond all previous limits? From the viewpoint of ordinary human experience, no clear answer is possible. However Jesus surrendered himself “by the power of the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) and, dying, entrusted his Spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46). Since the Spirit which he laid in the hands of the Father was at once his human spirit and the divine spirit bestowed on him, he was able completely to transform the ambiguous human act of dying, which is above all something suffered, into an act of surrender.

Whoever no longer determines himself by his own spirit, but entrusts this to the heavenly Father in order to allow himself to be totally determined by him, achieves a sort of openness and availability which go beyond our earthly experience and can only he hinted at by parables. The image of the clay with which the potter works can give a clue to this readiness to be shaped, and yet the one dying on the cross was much more than clay, for it was with his whole being and above all with his free will that he became a totally available “material.” What at first appeared only negative in the “victim situation” was transformed with his death into a limitless opening of himself and making himself available, an abandonment of himself and total trust. His dying as total act of handing over already contains agreement in advance to that imminent sovereign action of the Father, which was realized in the resurrection of the crucified one. His will allowed itself to open up through obedience in suffering to a complete uniting in love with the will of the Father.

The will of Jesus in his passion (Heb. 10:10) has appeared to us under a double aspect: (1) as identification with his opponents, insofar as they themselves are victims; (2) as “conversion” and transformation of evil in surrender. Under the first aspect we can see Christ’s love for enemies, insofar as he preferred, faced with his own will to survive, to share their destiny and to suffer in advance on their behalf those consequences of sin which necessarily result from it. This will to identification bore salvation to the extent that it was a presupposition for the second: the conversion and transformation of evil action in love. He turned the radical delivering of himself to his enemies, as he experienced this in being executed, into a radical surrender to his Father. Christ never consented to the lies and killing which constitute sin, but rather he dared to suffer the concrete sinful deeds (as being killed by sin) to the point where he was transformed precisely by them into a limitless surrender. Through his identification with his opponents he also infiltrated their world in which their evil will had imprisoned itself and by his transforming power opened it up once again from its new depths to the heavenly Father. Hell, toward which they were already bent, was once more broken open. What at first seemed to be something purely negative, as the rejection of love and closing in on oneself, was transformed by Christ into a surrender which bursts all dimensions of earthly existence. He is therefore both scapegoat and lamb of God; he is the one who is the one slain and the bread of life; he is the one made into sin and the source of holiness.

We asked whether it is right, in connection with Christ, to speak of a reorientation of aggression against himself, of a participation in the self-judgment of sinners, and of an (indirect) self-killing. The answer came out unambiguously negative. What appeared at first to point in that direction is seen after more precise analysis as an expression of his great love for sinners, by which he infiltrated their world. But this still leaves unexplained how Jesus during his public ministry could utter sayings which nevertheless give the impression that he summoned or appealed to self-aggression. These sayings can, however, be understood if we remember the power of sin which is so ingenious that it even knows how to make use of the command which opposes it. Sin only really becomes inflamed in direct opposition. Jesus therefore did not generally make a frontal attack on evil, but even during his public ministry he indicated how it should be dealt with and infiltrated in different ways. In the narrative of the woman taken in adultery who was caught red-handed, even he, if we follow his actual words, gives the instruction to throw stones at the guilty woman. But because he adds the condition that each one who condemns should apply the same standard to himself (“Whoever among you is without sin throw the first stone at her” [John 8:7]), his verbal instruction to kill has the exactly opposite effect in the actual context (“When they heard his answer, they left one after the other, beginning with the eldest” [John 8:9]). If Jesus had answered his opponents with a yes or a no, they would have charged him. A direct answer, whether yes or no, would have heightened their aggression. But, by taking up his opponents’ suggestion of stoning, and turning it around in an unexpected way, he let their evil intention drain away.

We should understand in a similar way his call, to which we have already referred, to tear out or cut off a member of the body. In the Sermon on the Mount, the corresponding saying comes immediately after that about adultery, in which Jesus again leaves the crucial conclusion to his hearers. He mentions first what Scripture says on this subject, and then for his part he only establishes that the situation named in the law is already present in a lustful look (“Whoever even looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” [Matt. 5:28]). The conclusion for the hearer is on the one hand clear and on the other leaves the decisive issue open. Each one should guard against the lustful look; each one should equally guard against condemning others for adultery, for who can claim for himself that he has never by a lustful look done the evil thing which he reproaches in others?

“If your right eye leads you astray, then tear it out and throw it away!” (Matt. 5:29). But how should the right eye or the right hand lead astray and not equally the left? And even if the one member was violently removed, would not the other carry on leading the person astray? Jesus expresses what should be done in all logic. But at the same time he makes clear from the harshness of the consequences that there is nothing positive to be achieved in this direction, and that the problem should be approached from a more fundamental angle. In another passage, the saying about cutting off a member is directly linked with the warning about leading little ones astray (Matt. 18:6-11; Mark 9:42-48). Are the people who are led astray by their members ultimately identical with the little ones who are ruled by a different law in their members (see Rom. 7:23)? Unambiguous answers are not possible here. But that is precisely why, given the subtlety of sin, there can be no really permanent remedy against it. Like the image of bloody sacrifice, the image of self-aggression can be used to point to depths where only the power of the Spirit can find the appropriate distinctions each time.

1. Girard (1978), 89. Girard’s theory helps not only better to see the inner connection between the individual norms of the Sermon on the Mount. In its light many subtle features of other specific pericopes appear more clearly. Girard (1988), 163-276, demonstrated this with the following texts: John 11:47-53 (Caiaphas speaking to the council); Mark 6:14-28 (beheading of John the Baptist); Mark 14:66-72 (denial of Peter); Mark 5:1-17 (healing of the demoniac of Gerasa); Matt. 12:23-28 (Satan casting out Satan).

2. Theissen (1977), 96-101.

3. Ibid., 97.

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