Lectionary Passage: Matthew 5: 21-37 (Epiphany 6A)
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 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. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 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. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. 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. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 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.
“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.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (NRSV)
And yet another week of reading the Sermon on the Mount…So are you getting the sense that we’re actually supposed to be listening to it? This is not an easy discourse full of pretty little stories interspersed with a few light-hearted jokes to keep our attention. You see, we really ARE supposed to do this. Jesus, like any good teacher, begins where we are. He acknowledges the usual view of what righteousness was (and perhaps is)—that a murderer will be judged; that those who leave offerings will be rewarded; that adulterers will be punished…the list goes on. But the whole point is that it’s not enough. Jesus doesn’t frame his words as prohibitions or a list of rules to be followed. That would, in fact, be far too simplistic. After all, why would we really need faith to follow a list of rules? It’s not about rules; it’s about expectations. And there IS something more that is expected of us who dare to realize that we are children of God. The rules are there. They will stay there. They help us order our society and give us boundaries for our lives. But we are expected to go beyond them, to be better than the society we have ordered and the boundaries we have drawn. And here, it is not just about behaviors; it also applies to attitudes and emotions. Indeed, it is about every aspect of our being. It’s a pretty radical way of looking at things. But, really, it’s Jesus. Did you expect anything less?
This week’s reading reminds us yet again that God came in Jesus Christ not to enforce the rules, but to reorder the world itself. God does not have a checklist or a lucky-number scorecard. Rather, God became flesh, dwelt among us, and showed us what it meant to live with an ever-present God in our midst. So, what is it that you expect from God? More than you can possibly imagine. And what is it that you expect from yourself? Expect more. Expectations are funny things. They may not always turn out the way we envisioned, but if you don’t expect something, nothing happens at all. So envision what life would look like if it really was the way Jesus depicted it. And who knows? You might be surprised.
Grace and Peace,