For a job that only happened approximately once a year growing up, I have some weirdly traumatic memories of putting mulch down at the house in which I was raised. It wasn’t that bad I guess. But I still shudder when I remember those days. One of the most painstaking parts of mulching was the weeding. The tool of choice at the Stroup household was screwdrivers. They dug small enough holes and were plentiful enough that we could each have one and get to work in our section. Pulling up those unwanted blooms and plants and wild things that grew. I’ve always kind of thought we should all just agree that weeds aren’t all that bad, and if we do, then we don’t have to pull them anymore! But alas, one thing I remember for sure, is how important it was, not just to cut the top off of the weed, but to dig all the way down. To pull it out by the root. When you pull it out by the root, it doesn’t grow back, it’s gone forever. The problem is extinct.
Pulling out the root is what stops it from growing back, what cleans the space, what rids the soil of the problem. This, was the goal of Jesus. When he started his section on the law in the Sermon On The Mount, he was not trying to make the law more difficult to follow, he was trying to show us what the point of following the law was. In the words of Tim Keller, “Roots become shoots, shoots become trees, trees become forests.” When Jesus gives what we call the six antitheses he’s trying to open the eyes of his followers to see that the purpose of the law wasn’t “follow the rules.” But the purpose of the law was to get at the heart. For each and every one of us. The problem isn’t the law, the problem isn’t the government, the problem isn’t archaic rules or regulations. The problem is our heart. The root of our issues and struggles, the depth of our worst problems, is our heart.
You can easily read this and say “not mine…” and that’s fine. But I suggest the odds are, you’re in the third paragraph of this blog because you’re honest enough to admit that you know your heart isn’t exactly where it needs to be. You know that the life Jesus called you to isn’t the life you’re living, yet. And so here we are, on the internet in 2020 (or beyooooond Hello out there!) Trying to suss out, what do I need to do? How can I take the metaphorical screwdriver to my life to be more like Jesus? The answer isn’t “stop doing that,” the answer is working on my own heart.
I maintain thats why Jesus includes these six antithesis statements in his most important speech, the Sermon On The Mount. To remind us, that the most important thing any single one of us can do isn’t tell someone else how to behave, but it’s focusing the condition of our own heart to being more like Jesus. And he shows us how to do that in this section of the SOTM. One example, perhaps the most extreme sounding, comes from his section on adultery, 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. You could take this literally, if you wanted to be blind by next week. Or, you could dig in to ask the question of why Jesus suggests you go to such hyperbolic lengths to protect your heart. And that’s where you would find the answer. He suggests we go to these lengths, not because he wants us blind, but because he wants us to see the seriousness of digging to the heart of the matter.
The issue of adultery, which causes pain, heartache, divorce, brokenness, doesn’t stop by just committing to never committing adultery. Jesus says, it starts with a much deeper commitment, to never looking at another person as an object for sexual gratification. By never just seeing another human as someone to meet a carnal desire. I can have the heart of Jesus, by refusing to view people as objects, either for my amorous or my animus, that is where we get into the root. When I start to examine how I see another person, when I start to see how I view living, breathing, image bearers of God. It starts in the roots of my own heart.