Matthew 5:21-37 (New Revised Standard Version)
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 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.’ 22But I say to you that 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; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court 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. 26Truly 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.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If 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. 30And 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.
31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But 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.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:
What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What leaves me scratching my head?
What delights me in this text? What do I like about it?
What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? You might remember a time when you held a grudge, or failed to be “perfect” in a specific way, for example.
What is God up to in this text? What is God calling me to do or to be in this text?
This month’s text is definitely a tough one. Most of us believe that we are, basically, good people, and, if we act good and decently, God will love us and forgive us and take us to heaven one day. We look at the Ten Commandments, and feel that as long as we aren’t praying to foreign gods, haven’t actually murdered anyone, and haven’t cheated on our spouses lately, that we are keeping the law and are in God’s favor. This text, however, leaves no wiggle room. Jesus not only reminds us of the law, but intensifies it to the point where no one can wriggle out from underneath its condemnation. Have you ever been angry at someone? You have broken God’s law. Have you ever found someone who was not your spouse attractive? You have broken God’s law. Have you ever said to someone who doubted the truth of what you had to say, “I swear!”? You have broken God’s law. Yikes! Ouch! Where’s the hope? What is the purpose of condemnation after condemnation after condemnation?
In Romans 2:22b-24, Paul writes: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” All of us are sinners. All of us mess up. No one human being on earth is truly and completely holy. We are all in the same boat. This is a good reminder for us, as the people of God. The purpose of the Sermon on the Mount, of which this text is a part, is to remind those who are already the saved children of the heavenly Father just why we need saving. The purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to remind us that we are no better or worse than anyone else, no matter how much we would like it to be true. We all need saving. We all need love. We all need forgiveness. We all need grace. The purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to turn us again to God, who is the source of our life, and our health, and our healing. God is the source of everything good, and without God, we amount to nothing.
So, how are you doing? In the midst of this bad news, this unflattering mirror, this breakdown of all the myths we tell ourselves about being good, and right, and true, where do we stand? For me, maybe the answer is that I don’t. Instead, I fall on my knees, confess my sin, and rejoice in the free grace poured out as a gift. And, just maybe, when I open my eyes and look around at my neighbors, I look with less condemnation and more grace. I look with less judgement and more love. I look with less building myself up and more building up of the broken, who need to see Jesus in me, now more than ever.
You are a beloved child of God. And you are a sinner. And so am I. I look forward to dwelling more deeply in this Word with you this month, and the wonderful conversations that this will spark. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
In Christ, Pastor Breen