Epiphany 6A – Matthew 5:21-37
Last week’s Gospel lesson was the beginning part of Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount.” That part of it gave a kind of pep talk to the crowd. He told them that they were good, using words like “good salt” and “the light.” He used a plural case for the word “you” to show that being God’s people is not meant to be a solo job, but instead we are part of a group. And he reminded us that we are not perfect…that we will fall short. This is not meant as a judgement, but as a lead in to the fact that our perfection is not something which we achieve, but which is achieved for us by Christ and the cross.
So yes, with a quick divergence to Sirach, please note what we are NOT created for. We are not created to be puppets. We are given the ability to choose whether we follow God’s commandments or not….to choose between fire and water….when we sin, it is of our choosing. But knowing that we have the power to choose, God wishes that we choose God’s way, which does include realizing that we can’t do it all and asking for God’s mercy, which God is just dying to give.
Now back to the Sermon on the Mount….acknowledging that God’s people are not a bunch of me’s, but a collective we, now what? Well now we get some additional instruction. You see, even when we do see ourselves as a group, we can still have a me-oriented problem. We can still be selfish. We can still look inward towards our own group, rather than outwards. So not only can we have an “It is all about me” problem, we can also have an “It is all about us” problem, and that is something which God did NOT create us for. Instead God created us to look outward and see that we are always part of a larger community that God wants us to have a relationship with. Today’s section of the Sermon on the Mount reminds us in a different way that we are not alone. And since we are not alone, we need to consider our actions.
How often do you wash your hands after using the bathroom? 34% of Americans do not wash their hands after using the bathroom, and 70% do not use soap. And yes, men are about twice as bad about it as women. But interestingly, studies show that you are a lot more likely to wash your hands if someone else is present in the bathroom at the same time as you. So when you realize that you are not alone, you are more likely to exhibit proper behavior.
Well good news….Jesus points out that we are not alone…so maybe realizing that will help us to curb some of our sinful/hurtful behaviors. Maybe if we are thinking that we are not alone, we will realize that even some of our “lesser sins” can hurt people. Maybe if we don’t think that “no one is watching” we will think twice about the choices we make, the things we say, the actions we take. Even our smallest decisions, words, and actions can help to improve the lives of others. Even our smallest decisions, words, and actions can threaten to make worse the lives of others.
(As Professor Karoline Lewis points out), “in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists that life is threatened when anger and judgment and insult reign. Life is threatened when women are objectified, merely fulfillment of sexual desire or the carrying on the family name. Women, Jesus insists, are not culture’s for the taking. Life is threatened when women are consistently reduced, even discarded, based on their capacity to satisfy privileged and patriarchal needs and their capacity to bear children. Life is threatened when you do not follow through with oaths you make.”
As I first start with each new group of confirmation students, I tell them that our purpose as God’s people, as part of God’s creation, is to be in relationship with God and with each other. I remind them that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love…love of God and love of each other as we love ourselves. To love is to promote life, not death. The law which God gave through Moses was meant to help preserve life and out relationships. Jesus does not come to abolish the law, but to broaden it.
- It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. We should also treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words.
- It is not enough to avoid physically committing adultery. We should also not objectify other persons by seeing them as a means to satisfy our physical desires by lusting after them.
- It is not enough to follow the letter of the law regarding divorce. We should not treat people as disposable and should make sure that the most vulnerable — in this culture that often meant women and children — are provided for.
- It is not enough to keep ourselves from swearing falsely or lying to others. We should speak and act truthfully in all of our dealings so that we don’t need to make oaths at all. (source = David Lose)So…let’s close with a couple relationship questions.Prayer of thanksgiving.Prayer for help.
- Remember that God delights in you and loves you unconditionally and so desires the best for you in and through your relationships.
- Second, think about another important relationship to you, but one that has suffered damage.
- First, think about one of your best relationships….one which is healthy and good and which helps sustain you. Think about what makes it such a good relationship and why it is so important to you.
- Yes, the law speaks, but so does the Gospel. Remember last week? What happens to those who don’t keep the law? That’s right, they are the least in the kingdom of heaven. Let me say that again…they are least in the kingdom of heaven. Last week, even the worst player on the New England Patriots could say that he won a Super Bowl. Good news…even the worst of us are still good enough to have a place in heaven. We have a place because Jesus chooses to die even for the worst of us…especially for the worst of us. Thus even the worst of us can make positive relationships, and even the worst of us is deserving of positive relationships.