Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 Matthew 5: 21-27
We heard teaching from Jesus from ‘the sermon on the mount’. Last week – if you were following the lectionary – we heard how Jesus talks of the blessing of God on the poor, those who mourn, the reviled to the great crowd of all sorts of people who have gathered around him to hear what he has to say.
This is good news – the blessing, care and love of God for those ho most need it. How the crowd must have felt cheered by what they heard,
The love of God is great enough to stop down to the lowest and the least, to the rule-breakers and the unclean, and to bless them.
But in today’s reading it might seem that the mood has changed.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, `You shall not murder'; and `whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.'
But 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.”
If the unclean have reveled in Jesus’ teaching about God’s blessing, they should not imagine that Jesus is lifting the laws of God.
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law – I have come not to abolish but to fulfil it”.
Jesus does not try to set up a conflict between the gospel of love and the law of Moses – I don’t believe he would would have much time for the argument that the New Testament does away with the old.
Instead, Jesus is telling his listeners that Love is the lens through which we read the law.
This is not new – it is entirely consistent with the way in which we heard the laws described in Deuteronomy.
Moses says “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish”.
God says to the people of Israel – choose life. Choose to walk in God‘s way. Choose to be mindful of God’s laws, and to keep them – not because otherwise you fear punishment, but because this is the way to live full and happy lives. So do not kill – not because you will be punished by God if you do, but because when everyone keeps this law society is richer and better. Do not break God’s laws, because in laying down the laws, God has shown people the best ways to live. Love is the lens through which we read the law.
In the same way Jesus warns his followers ‘if you are angry you will be liable to judgement’.
If you are angry with someone you are choosing the path that leads to sin – the path that ultimately can lead to murder. Jesus wants his followers to orientate themselves towards the will of God – to know how to turn at every twist in the path of life. Jesus wants us to choose well, and to choose always what enhances life and affirms and builds up, rather than destroying life and hope.
To underline how important it is to make the right choices, even when they seem small choices, Jesus points out that anger can eventually lead to murder, that looking lustfully can eventually lead to adultery, that divorce should not be entered into lightly and thoughtlessly, any more than marriage should be in the first place.
And in case his listeners think that sin is only about big things and not the little choices, Jesus uses some dramatic language:
“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. 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.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to be able to blame a wandering eye or itchy fingers for what we might think of as ‘minor’ sins. Jesus wants us to be wholehearted in our walk in God’s way - loving God with all our heart, soul mind and strength and choosing the right path, even in the little things of life.
So love becomes the lens not only through which we read the law, but also the lens through which we examine our lives.
The good news so far is that we are not walking in fear, trying to be good in order to avoid God's wrath & judgement. Life is not about obeying God’s orders, it is about following God’s order forla good life.
But it’s still not feeling like really good news, is it?
It still seems that so far we’ve been thinking about what we need to do to get our lives right. If love is the lens through which we read the law and the lens through which we examine our lives, this reading and examination feels intensely uncomfortable.
The danger with Laws is that they can seem like they are creating a limit to love and even lead to excluding people. Those who keep the law are clean, those who do not are unclean. But Jesus starts with blessings for the poor and wretched – he points us to a deeper understanding that love has no limits. For Jesus, God’s law is not an external structure which keeps us on the straight and narrow, it is deep within, a guiding ethic or principle. God, from love, gives us the Law to help us choose a rich, good life, and God reaches out to us to fill our hearts with love so that we have the inner resources to live lives of love which are mindful of God’s law.
The lens of love not only allows us to see more clearly, it also focuses the power of God into our lives, like a magnifying glass on a sunny day.
Jesus says know you are loved & blessed, be ready to share that Good news with the world, but don’t think you can live however you like – live as children of God who walk in God’s light. Jesus will move on, in the sermon on the mount, to teach about revenge, love, giving, prayer and money. But the conclusion of this ‘sermon’ is simple ‘do not worry. Your father in heaven knows what you need’.
God knows the strength we need to be enabled to make all the right and good choices in life. So it is good that we meet today in the Lord’s house. Here we have a reminder of all that God’s love has done for us and all that God wants to give to us. In bread and wine we celebrate Jesus’ giving of his very self – Jesus outpouring of his life to demonstrate God’s love which knows no limits: not even death.
It is God’s love which can make us able to live God's way, so that we can be children of God who shine with the light of our heavenly father’s love.
To God’s praise and glory. Amen