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

THE GOSPEL FOR THIS SUNDAY CONTINUES OUR HEARING OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. IT BEGAN WITH THE BEATITUDES, THEN LAST WEEK WE HEARD ABOUT BEING THE SALT OF THE EARTH AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, AND NOW, THIS WEEK, IT SEEMS AS IF JESUS’ TONE HAS SHIFTED. HE HAS MOVED FROM “BLESSED ARE THOSE” TO “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID TO THOSE OF ANCIENT TIMES,” “BUT I SAY TO YOU.” THIS CONSTRUCTION HAS BEEN CALLED THE ANTITHESIS OF THE BEATITUDES, AND JESUS’ USE OF “IT HAS BEEN SAID BUT I SAY TO YOU” SEEMS TO IMPLY ONE OF TWO THINGS WHICH HAVE BEEN THE TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATIONS OF THIS PASSAGE. EITHER HE WAS IMPLYING THAT THE LAW OF GOD, AS EXPRESSED IN THE TEN COMMANDMENTS TO WHICH HE REFERS, DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH AND NEEDS AN EVEN STRICTER INTERPRETATION, OR HE WAS TAKING THE LAW TO EXTREMES WHICH CAN NOT BE TRULY OBSERVED BY FRAIL AND SINFUL MORTALS. IN THIS SECOND INTERPRETATION, THE VALUE OF GOD’S LAW IS NOT TO GUIDE THE LIVES OF THE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST, BUT TO DRIVE US TO THE CHRIST OF GOD FOR MERCY.

THE FIRST INTERPRETATION LEADS US TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE LIFE OF FAITH AS ALMOST ENTIRELY A MATTER OF MORALITY, WHICH LED TO THE DEVELOPMENT IN JUDAISM OF THE 613 LAWS ADDED ON TOP OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AND IN CHRISTIANITY TO THE HYPER-PURITANICAL PRACTICES OF BEING TOLD HOW TO BEHAVE IN EVERY ASPECT OF LIVING. THIS SECOND INTERPRETATION EMPTIES THE LAW OF GOD OF ANY MORAL CONTENT, SINCE ITS ONLY PURPOSE IS TO DRIVE US TO JESUS. EVEN WORSE, THIS INTERPRETATION MAKES IT SEEM AS IF JESUS DID NOT MEAN WHAT HE WAS SAYING, WHICH I FIND VERY DIFFICULT TO ACCEPT. WHILE THIS PASSAGE IS CHALLENGING AND UNCOMFORTABLE TO HEAR, I BELIEVE ITS BEST INTERPRETATION IS IN THE CONTEXT OF WHAT JESUS HAS SAID BEFORE.

AS YOU WILL RECALL FROM LAST WEEK, JESUS TOLD HIS FOLLOWERS THAT THEY WERE TO BE THE SALT OF THE EARTH AND A LIGHT TO THE WORLD. HE WAS ESTABLISHING THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD, WITH THE PEOPLE AMONG WHOM THEY LIVED. NOW, WHAT JESUS IS DOING IS ALSO TALKING ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS; THE RELATIONSHIP OF THOSE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD. THIS IS THE KINGDOM THAT BREAKS INTO THE WORLD WITH HIS BIRTH, LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION, AND WHICH WILL COME IN ITS FULLNESS UPON HIS RETURN IN GLORY. WHENEVER WE TALK ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT GOD’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS PEOPLE, AND HIS PEOPLE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER. WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE LAW WE TEND TO THINK OF IT AS A LEGAL OBLIGATION; DO THIS AND DON’T DO THAT. IF WE REALLY LOOK AT THE LAW OF GOD, AS EXPRESSED IN THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, WE SEE THAT THE FIRST TABLE IS ABOUT GOD’S RELATIONSHIP TO US AND OURS TO GOD, AND THE SECOND TABLE IS ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER. THE LAW OF GOD IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS.

WHEN WE LOOK AT THE LAW IN THIS WAY, WE SEE THAT IS REALLY A WAY OF POINTING US TOWARDS HONORING THOSE WITH WHOM WE HAVE A RELATIONSHIP; GOD AND OUR NEIGHBOR. IF I LOOK AT THE LAW OF GOD AS STRICTLY LEGAL REQUIREMENTS MEANS IT’S ALL ABOUT ME; I HAVEN’T MURDERED ANYONE, I HAVEN’T WITNESSED FALSELY AGAINST ANYONE, I HAVEN’T COMMITTED ADULTERY, ETC. THIS MAKES ME A PRETTY GOOD PHARISEE. JESUS, HOWEVER, TOLD US THAT OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, MUST EXCEED THAT OF THE SCRIBES AND THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS WHY HE INTENSIFIES THE LAW AND MAKES IT INTERNAL. IT’S NOT ENOUGH NOT TO MURDER, BUT TO TREAT EVERYONE, EVEN THOSE WHO UPSET US, WITH THE DIGNITY AND RESPECT DUE TO ALL OF GOD’S CHILDREN. LUTHER’S EXPLANATION OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IS HELPFUL IN UNDERSTANDING WHAT JESUS WAS SAYING. HE WROTE THAT NOT BEARING FALSE WITNESS IS NOT SIMPLY AVOIDING LYING, BUT IN PUTTING THE BEST POSSIBLE CONSTRUCTION ON WHAT THE YOUR NEIGHBOR SAYS, THEREBY MAINTAINING THE COMMUNAL RELATIONSHIP OF THE KINGDOM WHICH IS THE LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN.

WHEN THE LAW OF GOD IS, AS JEREMIAH PROPHESIED, WRITTEN ON OUR HEARTS, THEN WE CAN LIVE WITH TRUE INTEGRITY; OUR EXTERNAL ACTIONS WILL REFLECT OUR TRUE INTERNAL THOUGHTS. THUS THERE IS NO NEED FOR AWESOME OATHS TO PROVE TO OTHERS THAT WE ARE TRUTHFUL; A SIMPLE “YES” OR “NO” WILL SUFFICE. THIS IS THE GOAL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THAT WE LIVE IN TRUTH AND LOVE WITH HIM AND WITH EACH OTHER.

THIS IS THE GOAL FOR EACH OF US AS MEMBERS OF GOD’S KINGDOM, TO ALLOW THE HOLY SPIRIT TO INFUSE OUR HEARTS FULLY WITH THE LAW OF GOD, BUT WE ARE NOT THERE YET. WE ARE ALL TOO HUMAN AND WE WILL FAIL FROM TIME TO TIME, BUT OCCASIONAL FAILURE IS NOT THE END OF THE STORY. THE GOAL OF THE KINGDOM IS THAT FOR WHICH WE STRIVE, AND WHEN WE FAIL TO LIVE OUT THE LAW WRITTEN ON OUR HEARTS, WE HAVE THE CONSOLATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT LEADING US TO REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS IN THE GRACE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS. I FOR ONE AM EXTREMELY GRATEFUL FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF GOD IN CHRIST AS THE OCCASIONAL UNKIND THOUGHT COMES TO ME BEHIND THE WHEEL OF MY CAR, OR WHEN I HAVE TO DEAL WITH A PARTICULARLY DIFFICULT NEIGHBOR. LIVING UNDER THE MANTLE OF GOD’S GRACE, WE CAN STRIVE TO LIVE AS GOD WANTS US TO LIVE; LOVING AND HONORING HIM WITH ALL OF OUR BEING, AND LOVING AND HONORING OUR NEIGHBORS AS OURSELVES. THIS IS THE LAW THAT JESUS WANTS WRITTEN ON OUR HEARTS.
AMEN

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