Rev. Debra Jene Collum
February 12, 2017
Ok, so this passage of scripture is one that most pastors try to avoid. It is way too controversial.
Just what is it that Jesus is doing here?
We usually think of Jesus as on our side. As giving us a great deal of slack in our lives.
We usually think of Jesus as a person who spreads joy and grace and forgiveness and healing.
Unless he is talking to religious authorities Jesus always errs on the side of grace.
Here he sounds a little different. More judging. More strict. More legalistic.
So, when we hear Jesus this way we have to wonder just what is going on.
First, let’s remember that this passage is in the midst of a long teaching passage that began with the sermon on the mount. Matthew 5 is a long, long, long sermon. It is meant as a teaching tool for the early church to help them remember that one of Jesus’ roles was a Jewish rabbi/teacher.
Here Jesus is taking on some of the Jewish laws and wants to help his followers understand what it means to be a good child of God.
For Jews the law was not a set of beliefs. Actually, except for the Jesus thing, Jews and Methodists have a lot in common.
Methodists don’t see our faith as only a set of beliefs, either. In other words, you don’t have to believe certain things in order to be a Methodist. But like Jews, our religion is about living and honoring God with our whole life. Not just bits and pieces of our lives, but our whole lives.
Or as Tracey Rich wrote: Judaism is a comprehensive way of life, filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of life: what you do when you wake up in the morning, what you can and cannot eat, what you can and cannot wear, how to groom yourself, how to conduct business, who you can marry, how to observe the holidays and Shabbat, and perhaps most important, how to treat G-d, other people, and animals. http://www.jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm
So while Methodists don’t have written rules about what we eat, wear or grooming, although we could make some snide remarks here about some of our potluck traditions, we do agree that being a Methodist Christian is a comprehensive way of living. (See the United Methodist Church Discipline, Social Principles and Book of Resolutions http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/social-principles-social-creed)
It should affect how we conduct our lives from the moment we wake up to the moment lay down in rest at night.
Not because we believe following rules will make us a better person; but because these ‘way of life things’ are the only way to be fully human in the world and one of the best ways to reconnect with God everyday. And the way we can honor other human beings and all of God’s creation.
And to say it a different way: the word which is usually translated Jewish law, should be translated "the path that one walks."
The path one walks.
Well, Jesus was all over this, too. He hated it when people used the laws of religion to simply decide if they or, most often, their neighbor was righteous enough.
Did they wash their hands the right way? Did they eat the right way? Did they blow their nose the right way?
That sort of thinking and being drove Jesus crazy.
He would often call people who wanted him and his disciples to pay attention to this sort of thing: Hypocrites.
He hated it.
So Jesus here takes four of the common commandments and does some mini sermons about them.
Here is just a side note: an extra with no extra charge about these 4 commandments. They are four of the 10 commandments that are supposed to be observed by both Jews and Gentiles.
Jews actually have 613 commandments that they believe God requires of them. Not just 10.
So by focusing on these 4 commandments, Jesus was teaching, both, Jews and Gentiles, non-Jews, about what it means to be a follower of the Christ.
And Jesus was teaching the exact opposite of what the religious authorities were telling the people was true about the commandments of God.
Jesus was teaching the direct opposite of what the religious authorities were telling the people was true about the commandments of God.
And this is so beautiful and so hard.
You see, the religious authorities were telling people, as long as you don’t shed innocent blood, you are not harming another human being.
Or as long as you were giving your wife the proper paper work it didn’t matter why you decided to divorce her.
Or as long as you didn’t sleep with someone’s spouse anything else you did with them was ok
Or as long as you made a big show of pledging your support and tried your best to follow through, that was enough.
But Jesus hated the way people just followed the law and treated others with contempt. He hated it.
Because he saw how it misrepresented God’s work in the world.
I mean isn’t it true: one of the reasons people don’t come to church is because they see Christians as hypocrites. Saying one thing and doing the opposite. Saying that we love our neighbor but then tearing them down or avoiding them on the street or bullying them or not forgiving them.
But I guess as long as we don’t murder them then we are ok, right?
Saying that we love our spouses but then comparing them to people we think are more successful, more attractive, more fun to be around. Tearing them down instead of building them up. Refusing to listen to their concerns and needs.
As long as we don’t cheat on them or divorce them, then we are ok, right?
Saying/ Pledging that we are Christians, that we believe the teachings of the church. We go to church, don’t we? We say the creed, don’t we? We pray the Lord’s prayer, don’t we? Heck that is better than most people, right? At least we are there, right?
We are giving God a good hour of our time...
You hear how silly it sounds. I think the people on the hillside listening to Jesus, heard how silly it sounded, too.
And how profoundly awful it sounded.
God’s people were being hurt by God’s own people who were just trying to look good and not be good. Who were just trying to wash their hands the right way. Not trying to live a clean life the way God wants us to live.
And that is the thing that Jesus hated the most, to have ritually clean hands but a dirty life.
So this really isn’t Jesus being different is it? It is the same message Jesus gives over and over and over again: Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. Which means don’t bring harm to your neighbor in any way shape or form.
I was asked to speak at a seminar on the faith’s response to suicide. From a Christian UMC perspective. There were Baptists, Catholics, Buddhists and Jews at the table. All of us said the same thing: our religion does not condemn to some kind of everlasting punishment those who complete suicide. None of us. Because we all affirmed that our understanding of God was a loving God who healed mental health diseases. Our God did not condemn them.
Now here is the thing, this is new. This is new. If I had done this seminar a few years ago there would be at the table faith leaders who would have to admit that their faith tradition condemned those who completed suicide to an unmarked grave and eternal limbo.
We are getting better at understanding the truth of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus’ teachings. For God so loved the world. Period. God loves clean hands and a pure heart.
But, as I said that night, this is so tragic because while I do think the church and faith communities are getting better at this thing called living into the way of Jesus. I think we are better at doing more than just washing our hands the right way. But we have, for so long, did it badly that no one wants to associate with us. Or trust us.
This is why, now more than ever, we hear what Jesus is saying:
it is not enough that you don’t murder anyone. You must live your life so that you don’t cause a little one to stumble and be led astray. To believe somehow that God doesn’t love them. That there isn’t a place for them in the kindom of God. That somehow they have done something that will keep them from being one of God’s chosen people.
It isn’t enough that you don’t murder, you must not lead a little one astray. Indeed, you must live so that others can see and want to come to a full relationship with God.
You MUST live so that others can see and want to come to a full relationship with God. You Must. And I hope it isn't too late