The Sixth Sunday after The Epiphany
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 5:21-37

WE CONTINUE THIS WEEK WITH THE READING OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, AND, NOW, JESUS TELLS US JUST WHAT HE MEANT WHEN HE SAID OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS MUST EXCEED THAT OF THE PHARISEES AND THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW OR WE CERTAINLY WILL NOT SEE THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. IF HEARING THAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU SQUIRM IN YOUR SEATS A BIT, THEN YOU ARE NOT REALLY LISTENING. WHEN WE HEAR THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE, IF YOU ARE LIKE ME, I EXPECT YOU FEEL A LITTLE BEAT UP BY THE END OF IT. IN MY CASE, ONE MIGHT WONDER WHERE THE GOOD NEWS IS FOR A FORMER INFANTRY OFFICER WHO HAS TAKEN THE LIVES OF OTHERS, HAS A TEMPER AND DOESN’T SUFFER FOOLS GLADLY, APPRECIATES BEAUTIFUL WOMEN – MOST WOMEN IN FACT, AND IS DIVORCED AND REMARRIED. WELL, LET US LOOK FOR THE GOOD NEWS TOGETHER.

WHEN WE WORK PAST JESUS’ USE OF HYPERBOLE AND SHOCKING LANGUAGE TO DRIVE HOME HIS POINT, WE GET TO THE PURPOSE OF THE MESSIAH SENT BY GOD TO HIS PEOPLE. WHAT BEGINS HERE, IN THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, WHAT IS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE MINISTRY OF JESUS, WHAT IS MADE POSSIBLE BY HIS SACRIFICE ON THE CROSS, AND WHAT IS ACTUALIZED BY THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ON PENTECOST IS THE INTERNALIZATION OF THE LAW OF GOD IN THE HEARTS AND SPIRITS OF HIS PEOPLE. THIS IS WHAT ALL THE PROPHETS POINT TOWARDS; ESPECIALLY JEREMIAH WHEN HE SAYS OF THE NEW COVENANT BROUGHT BY THE MESSIAH, I WILL PUT MY LAW WITHIN THEM, AND I WILL WRITE IT UPON THEIR HEARTS; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE . . . FOR THEY SHALL ALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST, SAYS THE LORD, FOR I WILL FORGIVE THEIR INIQUITY, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SIN NO MORE” [Jer. 31: 33ff]. JESUS HAS COME FROM GOD TO DO THIS, AND, HERE, IN THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, HE TELLS US WHAT THAT MEANS IN THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH THEIR GOD.

TO SEE THE LAW OF GOD AS A CHECKLIST OF DO’S AND DON’TS IS TO MISUNDERSTAND THE MEANING AND THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S LAW; AND IS, IN FACT, THE FAILURE OF THE PHARISEES AND SCRIBES. SO JESUS BEGINS BY USING THE LANGUAGE OF THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW; “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID TO THOSE OF ANCIENT TIMES, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER.’” OUR FIRST THOUGHT IS THAT IF WE HAVEN’T MURDERED ANYONE WE ARE ALL RIGHT; WE CAN CHECK THAT BOX. IT IS NOT, HOWEVER, WHAT WE DO OR DON’T DO, IT IS WHAT IS IN OUR HEARTS THAT LEADS TO SEPARATION FROM EACH OTHER AND FROM GOD.

WHEN JESUS TALKS ABOUT OUR BEING ANGRY WITH A BROTHER OR SISTER, HE IS NOT TALKING ABOUT THE KIND OF RIGHTEOUS ANGER HE DISPLAYED AT THE TEMPLE. REMEMBER THAT WHEN PEOPLE ASK, “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO,” MAKING A WHIP AND TURNING OVER TABLES IS A POSSIBILITY. HE IS TALKING ABOUT THE KIND OF ANGER THAT DISCOUNTS THE OTHER PERSON AND ATTACKS HIS OR HER WORTH IN THE SIGHT OF OTHERS AND OF GOD. TO CALL SOMEONE RAKA, EMPTY OR WORTHLESS, OR A FOOL, IS TO DEMEAN HIM OR HER AND MAKE ONES SELF SUPERIOR, AND, THUS, SEVER ANY POSSIBLE RELATIONSHIP.

SO IMPORTANT IS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER, THAT, IF YOU ARE AT THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM MAKING YOUR OFFERING, AND YOU REALIZE THAT YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOU, THEN YOU SHOULD LEAVE THAT OFFERING AND GO BACK TO GALILEE TO SORT OUT THE PROBLEM. WE CAN NOT BE IN RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD IF WE ARE NOT IN A RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER.

SO IMPORTANT IS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER THAT WE CAN NOT TREAT EACH OTHER AS OBJECTS TO BE POSSESSED AND USED TO SATISFY OUR DESIRES. WHEN JESUS SPEAKS ABOUT LOOKING AT A WOMAN WITH LUST, HE IS NOT TALKING ABOUT THE DELIGHT OF SEEING A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, OR ANY OF US APPRECIATING THE BEAUTY IN ANOTHER; HE IS TALKING ABOUT THE TWISTING OF THAT APPRECIATION INTO THE DESIRE TO POSSESS AND USE THE OTHER FOR MY OWN PLEASURE. EVEN IF I DON’T ACT ON THAT DESIRE, THAT KIND OF LUST DEGRADES AND DEHUMANIZES THE OTHER, AND THEREIN LIES THE SIN. THUS JESUS USES THE SHOCKING HYPERBOLIC IMAGES OF PLUCKING OUT YOUR EYE OR CUTTING OFF YOUR HAND TO KEEP FROM TREATING OTHERS IN DEHUMANIZING AND DEGRADING WAYS.

HIS TEACHING ON DIVORCE MUST ALSO BE SEEN IN TERMS OF HOW WE, AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD, RELATE ONE TO ANOTHER. YOU MIGHT HAVE NOTICED THAT JESUS REFERS TO BROTHER OR SISTER, NOT JUST TO MEN. AT THIS TIME, WOMEN WERE LITTLE MORE THAN PROPERTY, AND A MAN COULD CAST OFF HIS WIFE FOR LITTLE OR NO REASON; HE JUST HAD TO WRITE OUT A CERTIFICATE. HERE JESUS ELEVATES WOMEN TO FULL PERSONHOOD, AND SAYS THAT WHAT APPLIES TO THE WOMAN APPLIES TO THE MAN AS WELL. WHAT IS PARAMOUNT IS NOT THE LEGALITIES OF THE SITUATION, BUT, AGAIN, THE RELATIONSHIP, AND WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER OUGHT TO STAY TOGETHER.

THIS IS A DIFFICULT TEACHING FOR MOST OF US, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE OF US WHO HAVE BEEN DIVORCED. I DO BELIEVE THAT WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER OUGHT TO STAY TOGETHER, BUT NOT ALL THAT IS JOINED TOGETHER HAS BEEN JOINED BY GOD. AS IN ALL JESUS’ TEACHING, IT IS THE RELATIONSHIP OF LOVE AND RESPECT FOR ONE ANOTHER THAT IS IMPORTANT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD, AND, IF THAT RELATIONSHIP IS NOT THERE, IF THERE IS ABUSE, DECEIT, OR DISRESPECT, THERE IS NO LONGER A MARRIAGE. IN GOD’S LOVE, HOWEVER, THERE IS FORGIVENESS FOR ALL OUR SINS, EVEN DIVORCE.

THE PASSAGE ON OATH MAKING, AND SWEARING BY HEAVEN OR EARTH, MAY SEEM, AT FIRST, A BIT STRANGE, BUT IT DOES FLOW FROM WHAT JESUS MEANS ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIPS OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD. IF THE LAW OF GOD IS IN MY HEART, AND IN YOURS, THEN WHEN YOU AND I SPEAK TOGETHER, WE CAN TRUST THAT WHAT IS SAID IS THE TRUTH. IF YOU TELL ME SOMETHING, OR WE MAKE AN AGREEMENT, THEN I CAN ACCEPT THAT AS TRUE; WE HAVE NO NEED FOR OATHS BETWEEN US. BETWEEN THE PEOPLE OF GOD, HOLDING ONE’S HAND UP AND SWEARING IS A SIGN OF DECEIT. WE MAY NEED TO DO IT IN A COURT OF LAW, BUT NOT BETWEEN BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST.

IN THE COMING OF JESUS, GOD WITH US, AND BY THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD, GOD REORIENTS ALL THE RELATIONSHIPS OF OUR LIVES BY PLACING HIS LAW OF LOVE WITHIN OUR HEARTS. THIS IS THE LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, NOT A LIST OF DO’S AND DON’TS, BUT A LIFE OF LOVE FOR ALL OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS, AND FOR ALL PEOPLE, THROUGH OUR LOVE FOR OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS. IT IS ONLY BY LIVING A LIFE OF LOVE THAT OUR LIVES CAN BE AN ACCEPTABLE OFFERING ON THE ALTAR OF OUR GOD AND KING.
AMEN

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