You Have Heard it Said
You Have Heard it Said
What do we do when we think we understand what is going on. We believe we know what it means to follow Jesus and are willing to do so, but we come across a passage that challenges our assumptions and beliefs? The passage from the Sermon on the Mount that we are dealing with this morning is exactly one of those passages. We think we know, then we read scripture and Jesus appears to be making things harder!
Scripture: Matthew 5: 21-37
You Have Heard it Said
You have heard it said that Jesus was a mild-mannered teacher, but I tell you that Jesus taught a message that disrupted the status quo.
You have heard it said that Jesus healed the poor and sick, but I tell you that Jesus demonstrated that every life has value.
You have heard it said that Jesus broke the law by healing on the Sabbath, but I tell you that grace poured out from Jesus as he lived out the letter of the law.
When most people think of a ‘radical’ the name of ‘Jesus’ is not the first connection that people will make. If you think about radical acts, the Sermon on Mount, which we are still working through this morning, is not likely a speech that comes to mind. As Scott Hoezee puts it, “Radicals throw Molotov cocktails at police and stage sit-ins and carry placards in the town square. But that’s not Matthew 5-7! We like to think of the Sermon on the Mount as gentle and soothing. The Beatitudes, which we covered two weeks ago are so lovely. Jesus’ teaching of what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer” is likewise lyric as is the passage that follows that prayer about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. This just does not strike us as all that radical.
“But as I was taught in New Testament class a long time ago, the root of the word “radical” is the Latin radix and that is the Latin word for “root.” The word radix lives on in mathematics to refer to the base number in some larger system of numbers and numeration. The radix is what is at the bottom of something, at the foundation or below the foundation, at the roots. The radix gets at the root, at the origin of something. And so there is a sense in which a radical is someone who wants to return something—a political system, a religious belief system—to what it was intended to be in the beginning, at the root of all things.” (Scott Hoezee)
When Jesus talks about the law, when Jesus indicates that he is the fulfillment of the law this is what he is getting at. He wants to bring people back to why the law was given to the people in the first place. Not so that we can live in a rigidly codified, legalistic society, but so that human life in the most basic way can flourish.
Jesus is getting us back to the roots of why God gave us the law in the first place. The Law of God is meant to encourage human life, it is meant to be life affirming, at every level of our hearts and minds. The Law of God does not exist so that you can manipulate those laws for your own gain and profit. The laws of God are not meant to help you get ahead, we don’t use the law of God to trivialize people, use people or make them objects of lust, scorn, we don’t manipulate, and we aren’t violent towards people. The laws of God are not for these things.
This section from Matthew is often a stumbling block for people. We think we get it, but then we realize we don’t. Or, should I say we have great difficulty with the way that Jesus is reinterpreting things. Jesus plays on some of the Ten Commandments and other laws in this passage. Specifically murder, adultery, divorce and oaths. We struggle with what Jesus says here because it appears that he is making the law harder to follow than it already was.
Haven’t murdered anyone, great, but remember the guy you got angry at? Sorry about your luck.
Been faithful to your spouse, fantastic, keep it up, but remember that celebrity you joked about getting a hall pass for? Yeah, that’s unfortunate.
You haven’t taken God’s name in vain or made any false oaths, thank you. But remember when you declared everything to be accurate on your taxes, only you know it wasn’t. You shouldn’t have done that.
Jesus appears to be taking all of these laws of God, and leveling up the difficultly in keeping them. We read this passage and we all despair that it simply isn’t fair. How can anyone be expected to live to this standard because even if you’ve never made a false oath, and even if you’ve always managed to keep those lustful thoughts in check, we’ve all had moments of unchecked anger. If we are really honest most of us have been guilty of what Jesus describes in this passage.
Now here’s the thing, what I’m about to say doesn’t get you off the hook. Because these things matter, our thoughts and our intentions matter and that is what Jesus is getting at. Jesus isn’t trying to make the law harder than the Pharisees had already made it, he is radicalizing it. You thought you knew what God wanted, but Jesus is telling us differently.
It isn’t that murder, lust, divorce and oaths don’t matter. They do. Though we our attitudes and understanding on some of these issues have changed as we no longer live in a patriarchal society. Our idea’s about property and personhood have also changed. What Jesus is trying to hammer home, is that each of these things speaks to how we are in relationship with one another and with God.
Jesus is getting us back to the roots of why God gave us the law in the first place. The Law of God is meant to encourage human flourishing, it is meant to be life affirming. At every level of our hearts and minds. The Law of God does not exist so that you can manipulate those laws for your own gain and profit. They are not meant to help you get ahead, we don’t use the Law of God to trivialize people, use people or make them objects of lust, scorn, we don’t manipulate, and we aren’t violent towards people.
We are meant to be in relationship with one another and those relationships are mean to be harmonious. We can choose to read this passage from the Sermon on the Mount literally, and then be held to an impossible standard. Or we can get to the root of the matter and realize what Jesus is talking about, the way we treat and love one another. If we read this passage literally, if I were to preach it literally, I would be wagging my finger at you non-stop and I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the room. But this isn’t what Jesus is trying to tell us. The law of God isn’t about petty moralism or finger wagging, it is about our relationships. It is about how we treat one another, care for one another, love one another. It is about how we chose to disagree with one another. It is about a spirit of harmony and community.
You have heard it said that the kingdom of God is at hand, but I tell you “we are partners working together for God, and you are God’s field. You are also God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:9) Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.