“You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …”

21614wordleKenora Epiphany + 6
Year A
16 February 2020

Sirach 15:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Living One,
in whose freedom creation was born as gift:
free us from the need
to possess, define and silence others,
so that we might rejoice
in the strangeness of your beauty
revealed in flesh and blood;
through Jesus Christ, our reconciliation. Amen.

I find today’s gospel is one that has the ability to be confusing for us to read, to hear, still today.

Its confusing to the point of difficult because we get caught up in the interpretation of the law that we find here.

Now, we’ve had hints. Last week when Jesus tells us, warns us, “17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Mt 5:17-18)

And all of this is part of Jesus famous Sermon on the Mount. So, what we are able to see, here, is that Jesus knows his time with these people gathered around him is limited, and for many, this might be the only time they’ve ever hear Jesus during his or their lifetimes.

Last week, we heard Jesus tell us that he’s not here to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill the law.

And today he’s pointing out all of the caveats, the mores, and the interpretations of that law that keep us from seeing the spirit of the law that God set down on tablets of stone, during Moses lifetime. Back when Moses led the Hebrew people from a life of slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey, a life of freedom.

God said and it was recorded on stone “Do Not Kill/Murder,” yet the experts in the law have, since that day, gone to great lengths to define death and the crime of inflicting it upon others. These same generations of experts in the law have continued to do the same.

They’ve spent generations building in loopholes so that if you know where to look and how to navigate the, even Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents, in Bethlehem could be justified.

Today, Jesus wants us to see how this legalistic quagmire has been overlaid over top of the carved stone of God’s law, and continues to be laid out in such deepening layers, still today. He tells us: “21 “You have heard that it was said … 22 But I tell you that” (Mt 5:21a, 22a)

Unfortunately, we’ve grown so comfortable with the grey areas, with the idea of legalistic loopholes that we don’t necessarily hear Jesus say the words “21 “You have heard that it was said … 22 But I tell you that…” (Mt 5:21a, 22a)

And this happens with all of us.

When I first read through the readings for today, my mind fixated on the images of anger, of adultery, of mutilation that fill today’s passage, and I had to go back and see where I was able to find Jesus in this passage, today, and what was he saying to you, and to me.

And I found him.

I found our Lord and Saviour standing waist deep in this quagmire of legalistic interpretation separating what we have heard from these generations of ‘experts in the law’ from what he tells us today.

And it comes back to Jesus reminding us that he has come to fulfill the law. It comes back to Jesus stripping away the layers of obstruction that we place between our lives, and God’s love. Layers that feel like a way for each one of us to take control of our own lives.

But isn’t that our grand mistake?

Isn’t that where we figure we can make a go of it on our own?

Isn’t that when we figure we can be god in God’s place?

We put so many layers between ourselves and God, like blankets on the bed on a cold winter’s night, that they become suffocating in their weight, in their ability to separate us from the freedom and the love of God for our own lives.

And again, we hear Jesus words “21 “You have heard that it was said … 22 But I tell you that…” (Mt 5:21a, 22a)

And in those brief words Jesus strips away the rumour, the hearsay, the loopholes, and the innuendo, and brings us back to the love of God, and the love of God that exists between each one of us, still today.

In those brief words, Jesus opens up the law, and points out to us where we have put up layers, not only between our hearts and God, but between our lives, and the lives of those all around us, as well.

And we’re able to see that this extends to absolutely every aspect of our lives, as well.

At the same time, it seems that through the overarching application of technology, that’s designed to bring us together, we find ourselves more and more isolated and alone than ever, constantly subject to what “we’ve heard that it was said” that is designed to make us feel isolated and powerless. (Mt 5:21a)

Now this isn’t the first time in human history when one segment of society has sought to isolate itself from others. But it is more prevalent across all branches of society, today, instead of just among a select few who because of wealth, status, and means are able to erect barriers between themselves and the average populous.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to be of use to each other, to look at the world through the eyes of reconciliation.

In our lives, we are encouraged to seek peace between us and those whom we have hurt, whether intentionally, or no.

In our lives, Jesus encourages us to live in love. We are encouraged to put the ones we love first, instead of having ‘a wandering eye’.

We are encouraged to make our word our bond, without showmanship or posturing. To be true to ourselves and the commitments that we make.

Jesus encourages us to live into the promise of eternal life that is offered. He encourages us to lean on God’s forgiveness, but to smooth the way between us and others because “21 “You have heard that it was said … 22 But I tell you …” (Mt 5:21a, 22a)

Here, in the midst of the legalistic quagmire that we’ve constructed of life, a quagmire that seems to be getting continually out of hand in order to prove that we’re right, we find Jesus cutting to the core of his teachings, to the core of the law that God gave to Moses on the mountaintop.

Here on a different mountain top, we find Jesus going deeper than the “blessed be” of the beatitudes, and deeper than the images of light and salt, that we heard last week, although these are still important aspects of his message.

Here we see him telling us how he will fulfill the law, and help us to live in that same stripped-down version of the fulfilled law with open and thankful hearts, because the one who is in the right is God.

We see this in the passage from Sirach who tells us bluntly “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.” (Sir 15:15-16)

Jesus is striving to lead us into paths of wisdom that have been set down before the creation of the world, and this is where we find ourselves, today.

Today Jesus breaks it apart for us by telling us: “21 “You have heard that it was said … 22 But I tell you that…” (Mt 5:21a, 22a)

But he doesn’t leave it there, and yes, some of his explanations are better suited to movie rating of “R” for horror violence when he talks about how to not give into temptations relating to immorality, and I’m sure movies have been made on such topics. (Not a genre that ‘floats my boat,’ really.)

But in this almost graphic way, Jesus reminds us that the core of our relationship, our time together is one of love, and of openness, and of compassion.

Our time together is one where wisdom is intended to grow and flourish as we learn more and more about each other and as we learn to live together as the body of Christ, here and in the wider world.

But this is often where we butt up against our own ideals and our own ways. We butt up against the idea that we choose where we are and how we get here.

Paul hints at this in the letter to the Corinthians we see, today when he tells us: “4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:4-9)

As Paul says, one plants, one waters, but it’s God who makes things grow. So, the glory, then, goes not to the one who plants, nor the one who waters, but rather to God who makes all good things grow.

Jesus strives to say the same thing to those who are gathered around him. To those who may only hear these few words from Jesus within their lifetime, and who are like sheep without a shepherd.

We, on the other hand, know the voice of our shepherd who strives to make clear for our hearts and lives what it is he’s saying so that we can come away from the table knowing that we are loved, that we are fed, that we are encouraged to see each other with new eyes and with hearts.

All this because Jesus looks at us and says, compassion in his stance, in his words, in his desire to free us from the quagmire of law, to live in the kingdom of God as he says to each one of us: “21 “You have heard that it was said … 22 But I tell you …” (Mt 5:21a, 22a)


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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