Matthew 5:21-26, murder, anger, and reconciliation, introduction
Matthew 5:21-26 comprises the following sections:
Murderous motives and anger
In this section, Jesus is teaching on the sixth of the Ten Commandments and therefore deals with murder.
The first murder recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, that of Abel by his brother Cain, involved animosity in the context of offering a sacrifice. What was needed in that case was precisely the sort of reconciliation between brothers envisaged in verses 23-26. With the Sermon on the Mount’s focus on the Way of Righteousness, there is a significant link between verse 21 and the Bible’s first mention of anger in connection with a way, for it comes in the story of Joseph, one of the Bible’s best known examples of reconciliation between brothers.
Matthew 5:21-26 contains some solid moral teaching but, within the context of Jesus early ministry, it also packed a powerful political punch. For there is another theme that runs through these verses; that of failure to accept a brother’s God-given superior authority. In the case of Joseph, it is his claim to authority over his brothers that fuels their animosity. Then in verse 22 we find the re-formulation of a recognised procedure for dealing those who rejected authority, one familiar from the account of an infamous murder. The same theme continues into verses 23-26, for had Cain been reconciled to his brother and accepted Abel’s priestly authority, then Cain too would have been able to offer acceptable sacrifices.