I have a feeling that those who created the Revised Common Lectionary, that is the calendar of Biblical readings (as in what reading we get each Sunday), had no sympathy for Valentine’s day, because this isn’t the most romantic reading in the Bible.
You shall not murder…you shall not commit adultery…everyone that looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart…whoever divorces his wife…
Wow, Jesus manages to make it awkward for pretty much everyone, as we all know someone who has gone through a divorce, someone who has a wandering eye, someone who has grown angry with a brother or a sister…
And if you started to squirm in your seat…good…these are not easy words.
Very early into his ministry, Jesus let them know he wasn’t going to be a warm and fuzzy kind of preacher. As we read the opening of this sermon a few weeks ago, in the shadow of empire, Jesus proclaimed a powerfully political message, undermining human power and establishing God’s power to lift up and redeem. As we progress through the sermon (blessedness, salt and light), here, Jesus goes to something the people know – the Ten Commandments – to show how he was different than those in the mainline faith.
In Biblical times, to be faithful in the Jewish faith, you’d make your appearance on the Sabbath, make your offerings before God, become “right” with God, and go home. For some, this would happen on a weekly basis, but for others, they would only make an appearance on the high holy days. And in that time in between spanning days or sometimes weeks, one wasn’t overly concerned with one’s relationship with God.
And while there’s two thousand years that separate us, nowadays we have our weekly attenders, and our Christmas and Easter congregation (the more things change, the more things stay the same). Two groups of faithful people, faced with challenging times in-between experiences of faith. The times when the rubber hits the road and our faith is tested. The times when we’re not necessarily in church but we’re still living as God would intend.
Jesus, in this text from Matthew, was saying that the Ten Commandments are easy enough to honour, the breaking easy enough to avoid. Worship one God, don’t misuse God’s name, honour God…those are easy enough. And the five that deal with how we interact with humanity, with creation, those too are fairly easy to avoid. For some of us, we may never experience a situation of murder, of adultery, or stealing much worse than that pack of gum you slipped into your pocket when you were five. For most of us, these Ten Commandments are not a part of our everyday lives.
Jesus, in his teaching to those desiring faithfulness to God, saw great disparity between what was professed in the time of worship, and the times in between. In re-teaching these “rules,” this ethical/moral framework, he wanted to remind those listening why these commandments existed at all.
When we looked at the Beatitudes a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that one of the most powerful ways to understand Jesus’ words was to imagine the community that they might create. In Jesus’ eyes, the world which looks after its mournful, meek, peacemakers, is the kin-dom of heaven, sharing blessings with those who feel outside of God’s love. It is the valuing of the life of others – empathetically feeling the suffering of others – and sharing in the work of God to bring about healing of our communities.
So if we hold up this same lens to these challenging words of Jesus, the same interpretation rises to the surface. It’s not enough to not murder,
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…
Have you ever been late for an appointment, and you’re speeding down the road, weaving in and out in between traffic, when that one car pulls in front of you going thirty less than the speed limit, and you find yourself saying words you’re hoping God didn’t hear. Those are the moments that Jesus worries about.
What’s in our heart matters to Jesus. While many of our actions don’t grievous offences before God, it’s is the daily eroding of our souls that prevents us from seeing others as human. When we get angry, or lust after someone, or do not follow through on our words, we objectify the other –there’s no room for relationship…it’s just what we’d do to them…They no longer become a human being with hurts and hearts, deserving of our care and compassion. They become a thing, and Jesus reminds us that the minute we do that, we forget that the story of their lives matters just the same as our own.
That person who pulls in front of you going thirty less than the speed limit might be driving for the first time after getting their license back after it being taken away because of a medical issue, and they’re nervous on the road.
When God whispered into each one of our ears that we were beloved children, God said it loud enough for everyone to hear, so that we might see the belovedness, the blessedness, the worthiness of all people. And God wants nothing more than for us to see that worthiness in all people, to come together as people of faith and hope, to live with love and respect with and for each other, because
our relationships matter to God…God cares deeply and passionately, that is, about how we treat each other because God loves each and all of us so much.
So maybe this passage does fit for Valetine’s after all. This love, both romantic and fraternal, the ties we have to one another as fellow creation members and humans, these relationships matter both to our lives, and to God. And our relationships are measured in the big (Ten Commandments) and almost more importantly the little (Sermon on the Mount) moments. In those little moments we face each and every day, which test our patience, our faith, we are challenged to imagine and live out this new community to which we are called.
Last week, as we closed our Annual meeting, I asked for a few words that come to mind when we think about St. James’-Rosemount, and words like community, and unity, and hope, and food rose to the surface…and while some of these definitely say what is…they also point to what might be.
Because this scripture wants us to think about
what kind of community we want to inhabit. In what ways do the laws we know and observe help us not just stay out of trouble but actually care for one another? …By asking and discussing these questions, we might just we spark a conversation about how the kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated might be more fully embodied in our homes, communities, and the world.