An excerpt from a Sermon to the People of Holy Cross
February 16, 2014
Matthew 5:21-37 (I heartily recommend The Message translation for this particular text)
Pray with me as we begin. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
“you can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure”
This is hard stuff.
Jesus is making us really look at the law, at the 10 Commandments to be precise. He’s really perceptive here…he sees that what we are trying to do is prove how good we are at following directions, but he’s also calling us out because we are invested in following the letter of the law and not the spirit.
At the risk of embarrassing my oldest child, I’m going to tell on him a little bit. We used to call him a “line-toer”. If ever we drew a metaphoric line for behavior, he would stand right on it…dangling his cute little toes over the edge…but he would never, ever cross it. “Don’t hit your brother.” So he’d pull his brother’s hair instead. “Stay right with me.” And he’d walk just beyond arm’s reach and dance around. Or maybe he’d run to the edge of the driveway as cars were whizzing past as they turned off Highway 90 and he’s stop mere inches short of the street. These sorts of things were usually accompanied by a gigantic grin flashed purely for my benefit and a “what? I didn’t hit him!! or leave you or go into the street” Let me express to those of you who have not been blessed with such a child how incredibly infuriating it is! Do you know how many times my 27-year-old self wanted to scream at that beautiful child, “GROW UP!”
And to be fair, Carter isn’t the only one who does these sorts of things. In our house, “Feed your rabbit” does not always lead to the distribution of food AND water. But make no mistake, he’ll have food…don’t count on the water. In a house of 6, we’ve got plenty of examples….and I’m guilty, too. Jesus says, “Don’t judge”, but I get really self-righteous and ready for some good old fashioned shaming when I see other people judging their friends and neighbors. I know Pastor Susan shares this sentiment, but my favorite bumper sticker says, “I hate people who hate people.” Ugh.
When Jesus sat out there on the Mount and talked with the people about murder and adultery and empty promises, he was telling them and telling us that we are to look BEYOND the letter of the law. We are NOT to be “line-towers”. We are supposed to be looking deeper into the meaning… behind the concise set of rules that God has put before us, and we are to try our damnedest to be even better than God has demanded we be. We are supposed to “go the extra-mile” for one another. We are to see the “do not’s” of the law and reverse them so that we are saying, we won’t do thing terrible thing. and also, we will do this extra thing to make it better. “We will not kill our friends. We will not plunge a knife between Maggie’s ribs and aim for her heart or her lungs, but more than that…not only are we not going to kill her, we are going to see what we can do to help her live and live happily and well!”
Not only will we not swear or take an oath or promise falsely, we should be faithful to the words that we use, AND we should commit to using life-giving words rather than words that tear-down…or maybe even worse…words that ignore altogether. When we ask “how are you?” we should listen to the answer. When we say “I’ll pray for you.” we should actually do it…and maybe we should find some sort of follow-up action that is helpful and restorative for our friend or for our neighbor.
To put it bluntly, what Jesus is saying is, “GROW UP!” You are subjects in the kingdom of God. So live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward one another. Without judgment toward your friends. Without throwing each other under the bus so that you may look like the better person or so that you may have one moment of pleasure without worrying about the other’s pain. Live toward others the way God lives toward you.
And do it now! Don't wait. The kingdom is coming, but also it is here. Now. Right now.
with many, many thanks to John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, aka, 2 Bubbas and a Bible for sharing their Lectionary Lab with all of us. and thanks also to Eugene Peterson for his work translating the Bible into a language we contemporary folk can better understand.