Lectionary Reading: Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)
What does it mean to grow in faith?
As our confirmation class seeks to do just this, we often lay out information for them. We talk about rules to follow and lists to learn. I had to memorize the Apostles' Creed for my confirmation Sunday.
We understand that in order to grow in the faith, one must have a working knowledge of the basics of our belief. Then we can begin to expound on them.
This is what Jesus does in Sunday's piece of the Sermon on the Mount. If you remember in last Sunday's lesson, Jesus tells us in verse 17 that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law. And so we see a formula for this passage where Jesus begins, "You have heard it said," where he reminds us of the general information and then goes on to say, "But I say to you," and he lays upon us a further consideration.
Three of the four instances here could deal with the Ten Commandments. The saying on divorce comes from Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
It seems that Jesus is moving our faith beyond our actions and into our intent. There might be days when you say to yourself, "Well, at least I didn't kill anyone today!" Jesus takes this idea and moves us to consider, "What if you didn't even allow yourself to become angry with someone?"
We might respond with, "Well, how can I keep from getting angry?"
|There's an old Cherokee proverb about two wolves|
warring inside us. One contains negative emotions like anger
and jealousy. The other represents joy and mercy. The
one that wins is the one you feed.
The passage on adultery increases the degree of difficulty for faithfulness. Notice that Jesus doesn't berate women for what they are wearing. He instead asks men to have respect for women as people rather than see them as objects. This would have been shocking when you consider that women were seen as property owned by men in that culture.
This attitude is continued when he speaks of divorce. Only a man could divorce a woman. Her options if her husband let her go were few. Most of the possibilities for her would not be pleasant.
Finally, we see Jesus moving us toward an integrity that would keep us from swearing oaths or vows. An oath under God could be seen as misusing God's name (which we are commanded not to do). Rather than use God's name as a kind of bargaining chip with others, we should exhibit the kind of righteousness that allows people to trust our word.
If we see how the Beatitudes move throughout the Sermon on the Mount, we could easily identify the following admonitions with a corresponding blessing:
Do not be angry or Blessed are the meek.
Do not commit adultery even in your heart or Blessed are the pure in spirit.
Do not divorce or Blessed are the peacemakers.
Do not swear an oath or Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
While some could argue that these sayings are impractical, I would argue the opposite. They are a means to an end with the end being the reign of heaven.
We'll continue to explore these on Sunday!
Photo by Caninest via Flickr. com. Used under the Creative Commons license.