Posted on Wed, Feb 15, 2017
February 11, 2017
6th Sunday after Epiphany
Gospel Text: Matthew 5:21-37
21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 ‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 ‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No;” anything more than this comes from the evil one.
This is the Gospel? This is Good News? Sure looks like a list of rules and protocols.
Yet, the list is a list that most adults wonder about. Concerning anger, concerning adultery, concerning divorce and concerning oaths. All of these topics must be dealt with in community for the sake of peace and stability in a community.
Regarding murder; murder stirs up primal passions and cannot be ignored or left just to the kind of the victim or the community will be torn apart. Jesus has no problem with the original commandment, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But then Jesus explores what may lie beneath the reason for such a need for this commandment launching into the prohibition of the sins that cause people to murder. “Everyone who is angry, or insults, or says, “You Fool,” to a sister or brother is liable to 1) Judgment (local court) 2) To the Council (The Sanhedrin) and it all ends up in … 3) to the Hell of Fire (God’s very own court).
When Jesus mentions the “hell of fire” he is literally referring to “Gehenna” the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem, notorious as the place where children were burned as an offering in the pagan cult of Molech. By Jesus time, Gehenna had come to signify the place of fiery torment reserved for the punishment of the wicked. Now it is a tourist look out called the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem.
But the point Matthew is making in this threefold repetition is to keep up the pressure on ordinary ways of thinking. Anger, insults, verbal assaults are in the same bag as murder! They are all antithetical and terrible abuses in a faith community destroying relationship, and trust; and construct a wall, a barrier, in the hope in acquiring reconciliation and forgiveness.
Then Jesus paints this picture of how absurd it is to come to the altar of the Lord with anger in your heart with a member of our family or community. Do we think we can hide anything from God, even our secrets, even our secret anger, fears, doubts and regrets? How foolish we would look coming before the throne of God asking for forgiveness when we are first called to forgive? Jesus is letting us know how foolish we look before God, when we all know the first thing we need to do is reconcile ourselves with others first, and then approach the altar with our offering. You want peace with God, follow what God has commanded, think with a new direction, away from anger, insults, murder, away form vengeance, prisons, punishments and pride, and towards reconciliation and life, towards peace and righteousness.
Then Jesus goes after the sin of adultery. In those days, as it seems to be as well even today, it is the women are feared and therefore to be blamed. Rather than admonishing the reality for a man to look at a woman and just turn her into an object, again, society based on fear blaming the woman as dangerous. So Jesus uses his love for hyperbole and makes an extreme statement to highlight that adultery is in the same bag as coveting or stealing and just tells us to remove that which is causing our sin… pluck out that eye!
All through these lessons, Jesus is raising the issue of people turning other people into objects and how this is contrary to God’s understanding of a community founded on forgiveness and freedom. Quantifying and putting a value on relationships that are outside of God’s prioritizing community and the need for forgiveness, mercy and love.
In the end, Jesus pushes us totally into God’s corner even telling us that to make an oath, promise or swear from the bottom of your heart, becomes a futile act because of who we are as a broken people that is constantly prone to anger, insults, coveting, self-centeredness, and basically flawed… unless we are walking in the promise of God’s love, mercy and righteousness. But that demands a totally new way of thinking, seeing, hearing and approaching our life in relationship with God.
People oftentimes ask me to do more “fire and brimstone” sermons. Why? I am not sure, do you like to get yelled at, judged and sentenced? Jesus is teaching these lessons before he went to the Cross. All the people had was the Law and the Prophets, but not forgiveness and salvation through God’s forgivenss and mercy of giving His only begotten Son.
We now live in a new age. The Law still exists, we know that because there is still anger, fear, doubt, hurt, selfishness, greed and pain. But we also know that God is the one holding the cards. Through the Cross of Christ, we are no longer alone, left to our own devices, schemes and cunning to attain our ‘salvation.’
We are lost, we are sinners, but we are also loved beyond our imagination and therefore, in God’s eyes, we are beloved and may even be called, “Saints.” This is what you can make an oath to, but that is about it. But what more is there beyond the love of God, and the truth that you are the object of Gods’ love?
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