21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,[a] you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult[b] a brother or sister,[c] you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell[d] of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister[e] has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,[f] and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court[g] 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. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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.[h]30 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.[i]
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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.
33 “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.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
The past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the ethos, or the characteristics that we may have that lead us towards blessing. This morning, our gospel lectionary continues that theme of blessing, or even happiness in some passages. Whenever this particular passage comes around, it seems kind of harsh, usually preachers run to the other lectionary passages to preach on instead of this one! Yet, as we dig deeper into it and the context in which it was written, we begin to see some pretty radical comments on building relationships of equality and quality.
Jesus is using rabbinic tradition to drive home a point. “You’ve heard it said long ago…” First of all, let’s remember what we’ve said the past couple of weeks, Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, or “fill it in”, to make it whole. Secondly, the phrase: “this is what you’ve always been told”, Jesus is using it to the heart of the issue. You can make changes, try not to do outward actions that are wrong or wicked, but where’s your heart? And, are you seeing things in a deeper way, not just on the surface. Are we willing to look deep into the mirror of our lives, and not be afraid of what we see, but to actually embrace our lives in order for growth to happen.
Jesus is telling us that the principles or ethos of being an active participant in the Kingdom of God is more about who we are at our core. There are some strong statements, it’s not just an act of going to your friends or enemies and asking them for forgiveness before the sun goes down, but it’s an action of vulnerability that is necessary for your growth as a human being. If you don’t, you become bitter, you build up walls within yourself. You separate yourself from the blessing of potential relationship.
Jesus says that when our hearts towards out brothers and sister are not right, or we put them down, or hold something against them, then that will tear at us. Thinking ourselves as superior to others leads us towards a kind of death or an experiencing some type of hell. As I understand scripture, hell is not a good existence…yet, we have opportunity to look deep within and to allow God’s love to be heard deeper in our lives bringing growth, change, and maturity. And, remember, hell is not simply some location separated from God…God is everywhere, working to show deep love towards all of us, nothing can separate us from the love of God, remember? But, we often choose paths that lead to something else that can feel like separation or hell.
Essentially, this whole passage about treating your brother and sister in a wrong way, adultery, murder, divorce, or swearing or really symptoms of how we’ve lived fragmented lives. Jesus is calling us towards living a better way, that we have grace to move to some better places of “being”. We can’t do it on our own either, we need one another, we need God’s flow moving in and through our relationships.
It’s also a social statement for women in the time of Jesus. The statement on adultery is to simply not objectify someone sexually. When we objectify someone, we do not take into account their whole person. Jesus is calling us to not look with lust on the outside appearances, but to look deeper at the whole person. As we look at the #metoo movement, we know that this message of Jesus still resonates! We have to be able to honor the entire person, not just treat them as objects.
In terms of divorce, this was a strong statement as divorce was seen as an almost entirely male privilege at the time of Jesus. All that was needed to divorce was a statement from the male. What Jesus is saying is that women have full rights in any relationship and they must be treated with respect. Notice that Jesus is addressing men almost entirely in these statements, its as if he’s trying to do a social cultural correction.
Neither of these statements are condemning statements, these are not commentaries on decisions that we’ve made or haven’t made, these are social justice statements asking more from us in terms of how we honor those in our lives…and we need to listen and hear them deeply.
In scripture, the motif of having ears to hear and eyes to see are actions that God does for us. In Psalm 40:6, it says that God has opened up our ears. In Hebrew, the translation is literally “digging out our ear”.
God digs deep within us, into our very core being to speak to us God’s love. In that passage, it says that God does not desire sacrifice or offerings, we cannot earn God’s love, but there is still work on our part…we have to have our ears dug out…and that can be painful. We have to risk being vulnerable, letting go of the way we’ve done things or found our being, we have to go to others and ask for their forgiveness, yield to one another, and pray for ears to be dug deep within our souls.
Really, at it’s core of this morning’s passage, we sense that Jesus is reminding us that we can’t just make surface changes in our lives, we can’t just stop wanting to put someone down, lust after what we don’t have or think we want, or whatever we struggle with…we need a deeper sense of digging deeper in our lives and in the lives of others…as we do that, as we practice loving ourselves, others, God, we find a deeper rhythm at work, we hear and sense God’s voice and work of love moving and flowing and we begin to see ourselves and humanity in a much more inclusive and beautiful way…and in so doing, we are transformed.
Pslam 42 says that “deep calls into deep”, the depth of God calling into the depths of who we are and vice versa. God calls us into deeper consciousness and awareness of God’s relational flow. God demonstrates to us that God’s creative imagination gave us life, that our identity is not what others may say, but our identity is wrapped up in Jesus who has identified with us in his humanity. The flow of God’s love and presence through God’s Spirit binds us to Jesus and to each other…gives us awareness of the blessing and happiness of walking with God as it says in another lectionary passage from Pslam 119 this morning…and to live deeper lives of honoring and loving…we need to cultivate an understanding and awareness of Jesus’ carrying us and forgiving us and simply loving us towards being the people we’ve always wanted to be.
If we do this, we can move into real transformation, real change and growth. Often we simply make technical changes. Technical changes can be as simple as changing the light bulbs or rearranging the furniture. But, we really need adaptive change in our lives and in the church. Adaptive change means looking at things and people differently and being creative in our approach. We have to adapt to a new way of being that can bring more life and growth than we thought possible. But, it takes courage, it takes digging deeper into our ears to hear, it takes a desire to love life and to live it well..to not just survive, but thrive…which is what God is calling us towards.
Friends, we have community and we have a God who’s made community with us, YOU have said “YES” to a new way of being church and to the transformation of our lives that is ongoing in God’s loving flow…you have done good work for several years, and now we are on this new chapter together. It’s only fitting that in a couple of weeks we celebrate Lent, and begin a time of preparation for God’s self giving of God’s self to us through Jesus…Let us be the church and the people God has called us into being as we listen to God’s heart beat for us and hear God’s voice for us and desire for us to honor ourselves, one another through God’s love flowing all around us!