It was customary in ancient times that every king established laws and code of conduct for his subjects. That code of conduct was the bond that united the subjects of his kingdom. Thus we find many laws in the ancient world.
One of the earliest collections of laws is the Code of Ur-Nammu, King of Ur. It was written in Sumerian language around 2100 BC. The laws of Eshnunna date back to 1930. Eshnunna was an ancient Sumerian city in upper Mesopotamia. There were several collections of laws, like the Hittite laws, the Assyrian laws, and Mosaic Law.
When the Israelites were led out of the land of slavery, in Egypt, they were promised a land flowing with milk and honey. Though the Israelites had no land of their own, they had formed themselves into a special people. The chosen people of Yahweh, were given their own laws, the “Ten Commandments”. Wherever the Israelites went they carried these laws with them. Whoever joined the Israelites had to adopt their laws.
Jesus came to establish a new Kingdom. Hence he had promulgated a new law. A new law for a new Kingdom. Neither the Jews who had been used to the rabbinic interpretation of the Mosaic Law, nor the Rabbis who interpreted the Mosaic Law could grasp the meaning of Jesus interpretation. They thought that Jesus was abolishing all the existing laws. In this context, Jesus declared that he had not come to abolish the Law but to complete it (Mt 5:17). Jesus taught them that the Kingdom of God would be guided by a single law, “The law of love.” Hence, Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments into two, “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart
….Love your neighbour as yourself.”(Deut 6:5. Mt 22:38-39).
Jesus demanded a higher standard of conduct from the citizens of his Kingdom.
“If your virtue goes no deeper
Than that of the Scribes and Pharisees,
You will never get into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20)
The contemporary Society of Jesus followed the principle of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth.” But in the new Kingdom that law was abolished and a new law was promulgated. “Show the right cheek to the one who strikes on the left.” It seemed impractical for the contemporaries of Jesus. And for many centuries people thought it impossible to practice it. But a little man from India proved it very practicable. He experienced that it was more effective than any other resistance. Hence, Gandhiji followed the path of non-violent resistance in his struggle against the inhuman urge of man to enslave his fellow ken. Not only did he follow it, but also he made it a mass movement. This made Gandhiji different from any other leader, and the most unique leader.
The demand of Jesus from the citizens of His Kingdom is a step higher than the normal standards. If anger is met with anger, treachery with treachery, falsehood with falsehood, there will not be any place for such people in the new kingdom. Jesus made His demands very clear. That can be summed up as “reverence for God” and “respect for men”. Jesus showed through His life what reverence for God and respect for men in actual life are. Reverence and respect do not consist in sacrifice but in mercy, not in legalization but in love, not in prohibitions but in understanding.
This demand Jesus placed on his followers with great authority. All the Prophets spoke in the name of God. They announced, “Thus says the Lord….” The Rabbis taught in the name of the written word of God. “Thus it is written….” But Jesus taught in His own authority. “I say to you…” Everyone was amazed but no one dared to question the authority of Jesus, because his words radiated unchallengeable authority and wisdom.
By the world’s standards a man is a good man, if he never does a forbidden thing. The modern civilization has diluted it further. A man is not guilty until it is proved. The world judges a man from his deeds. But Jesus went one more step further. He judges a man from his thoughts. Jesus taught that thoughts are as important as deeds. By Jesus’ standards a man is not a good man until he never even desires to do a forbidden thing.
To some extent every man is a split personality. There is a part of him which is attracted to good, and part of him which is attracted to evil. So long as a man is like that, an inner battle is going on inside him. One voice is inciting him to take the forbidden thing; the other voice is forbidding him to take it.
William Shakespeare presents this conflict beautifully in his play “Hamlet”.
On a dark winter night, a ghost walked the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Discovered first by a pair of watchmen, then by the scholar Horatio, the ghost resembled the recently deceased King Hamlet, whose brother Claudius had inherited the throne and married the king’s widow, Queen Gertrude. When Horatio and the watchmen bring Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and the dead king, to see the ghost, it spoke to him, declaring ominously that it was indeed his father’s spirit, and that he was murdered by none other than Claudius. Ordering Hamlet to seek revenge on the man who usurped his throne and married his wife, the ghost disappeared with the dawn.
Prince Hamlet devoted himself to avenging his father’s death, but, because he was contemplative and thoughtful by nature, he delayed, entering into a deep melancholy and even apparent madness.
He thought of taking his life:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:” Hamlet was unable to make a decision. One part of him instigated him to end everything in death. But the other part told him that it was against the commandment of God.
We all experience this inner tension. So long as there is this inner tension, this inner conflict, life must be insecure. In such circumstances the only way to safety, is to eradicate the desire for the forbidden thing for ever.
The standard Jesus demands from us is not only our deeds but also our thoughts should be pure. So Jesus forbids forever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge.
To be the citizens of the New Kingdom we have to accept the new law of Jesus, the law of love.