February 16, 2020

The choices we make

Passage: Matthew 5:21-37 and Deuteronomy 30:15-20

For today we have come to a number of the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount that touch on our human relationships and our interactions with one another.

Remember back to the reading from last week. The people were challenged to a righteousness beyond that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were being asked by Jesus to not only have an outward visible righteousness but an inward righteousness. When pressed, we often reveal our true feelings and thoughts. So it is that if our relationship with God is right on the inside, we will be more likely to reveal that in our public life. Jesus knew that no one could do all things perfectly but if we have a heart and a mind set on living in union with the will of God, we will show that heart and mind when we interact with one another and others in this world.

Jesus now expands on that basic call to righteousness – right living in response to God. The first subject he tackles is the commandment: Thou shalt not kill. It seems obvious to us that the taking of another person’s life is against the commandment of God. Of course, the thought behind this is the taking of another person’s life out of spite, malice, anger, greed, jealousy or other emotions that can cause us to act irrationally. Jesus goes beyond this simple prescription and encourages the people to see how anger in and of itself can cause us to break the commandment. Our anger can cause us to say things that not only appear hurtful but would want to bring physical, mental or spiritual pain and death upon another. At the very least our words and subsequent actions might cause such distress to another person as to cause them to lose hope in themselves and perhaps lead to some destructive event in their life. Jesus’ warning about anger is meant to help us seek for positive ways to resolve conflicts that can arise between us. He wants us to understand how destructive our words can be even when they do not lead to actions that may ultimately take the life of another.

We are encouraged to make our peace with one another – especially in the community of faith – before coming to worship. Our time of worship is to be a moment when we can celebrate our unity in faith, hope and peace. It is to be a time when we can rejuvenate and renew ourselves for the coming week. If we have come with disputes between us, we will have difficulty listening to and appreciating the presence of one another. The adage about couples not going to bed angry but settling their differences is just as applicable to our life in Christian community.

The next issue Jesus chooses to address concerns matters of the home – particularly relations between husbands and wives. Jesus has chosen this commandment to focus on because, like the first one we looked at, it deals with our relationship to others. On the face of it, the commandment to not commit adultery is one that is intended to show respect for the bonds between couples and to preserve a stable society for the children who are part of such bonds. It is recognized that a person is to choose one mate and to be satisfied with that choice. Men and women are to seek to be faithful to one another.

Jesus is concerned that the people have forgotten lessons of respect for persons. People have become so accustomed to following the letter of the law that they have forgotten that behind the letter of the law lies the spirit of the law. In the spirit of the law, there is a recognition that while what is thought may never see the light of day, those thoughts in and of themselves can cause us personal grief and hurt even if they are never outwardly expressed.

Certainly, we know that divorce happens in our communities and our societies for many and various reasons. Jesus is concerned that people consider carefully their relationships with one another. He is concerned not only for the people who are in relationship with one another but for those who may come into a relationship with one or the other of those persons in the future. Ultimately the hope of Jesus is that we find partners with whom we can share our hopes and dreams and that we will be able to work out any problems or challenges that will occur. But life does not always go according to our plans or expectations; yet while broken hearts and lives cause God great distress – even more distress is caused when we continue to hurt each other by maintaining relationships that no longer can find their peace.

The final one that Jesus speaks to the people about is making false statements. He really is talking about us being the salt of the earth. Remember that a person who is the salt of the earth is one who is true and genuine, a person whose word can be trusted, a person who seeks to do no harm to family, friend or foe, neighbour or stranger.

The people were encouraged not to give false testimony. Jesus also encouraged the people not to back their words up by adding things like “I swear”. He wanted their words to stand on their own without adding anything to them. When we say we will do something, someone should not have to get us to swear on a Bible or cross our hearts and hope to die. The honesty of our words should be enough. And if we do not follow through with what we have promised, we need to be willing to seek forgiveness and make amends.

These are just some of the choices that Jesus encourages us to make, choices that will influence our lives and that will show how much we are seeking to be in right relationship with God and one another. We won’t get it all right and that’s okay. But we need to put our best effort into it no matter what the outcome.

In the end, it is about our willingness to truly show respect for one another and our desire to live as people who choose to – in the words of the prophet Micah – do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.