This is one of the passages of the Bible which contains some things
that frankly I wish Jesus hadn’t said…
Someone asked me this week if I ever choose my own Bible readings
instead of using texts given to us in what’s called the lectionary –
-the 3 year cycle of readings that we as a church generally follow.
The answer is ‘yes’, sometimes I choose my own texts,
but one of the compelling reasons to use a lectionary I think,
is that without it,
we’d tend to read only our favorite texts,
the ones that are easy to understand,
the ones that agree with the way we think Jesus should be.
So we probably wouldn’t – or at least I probably wouldn’t – choose to read today’s gospel reading.
Jesus sounds a lot more judgmental here than merciful
(and I prefer the merciful Jesus – don’t you?).
In these words about divorce and adultery,
anger and taking oaths,
Jesus expands the law,
he broadens what it means to sin so that not only does sin involve a action,
but also the thinking of an act, the desiring to act.
Just when I was feeling a little self-righteous
that I’ve never killed anyone,
Jesus goes and expands the
to say that if I’m angry with someone that’s just as bad!
Not only does he condemn those who get angry,
he sends those who insult others to the council of the Sanhedrin;
And to top it all off, he says those who call others ‘fools’ will go to hell!
Now don’t tell anyone… but I’ve been angry;
I’ve also insulted people (mostly my brother and meteorologists),
and if I haven’t called people “fools” aloud,
well to be honest…I’ve thought it sometimes…
Isn’t Jesus taking it a little bit too far?
Wasn’t he the guy who dumped out the tables of the money changers?
Well, one of the joys of the lectionary is that there’s more than one bible reading to preach on today…(don’t worry, I’ll get back to Matthew!)
But there’s an Old Testament text from the book of Deuteronomy (the Bible Jesus knew),
which was chosen to go along with today’s reading
and which I think can help us.
Deuteronomy’s message is “choose life.”
Deuteonomy records Moses’ words to the people
when they finally-finally get to the edge of the promised land;
after wandering 40 years in the desert,
after being slaves for 400 years in Egypt,
now they can see the end of their journey.
Moses sees it too, but he knows he will not go any farther.
After disobeying God,
God has told him that he will not step foot in the promised land himself.
So here, near the end of Deuteronomy,
Moses gives the people some parting words,
(Imagine Charlton Heston delivering them if it helps).
Moses says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you…”
It’s the kind of thing parents might say to their children
before they go off to college: when you are faced with a decision, choose life.
It’s the kind of thing a mentor might say to a young employee
before they move to another position: when you come across that proverbial fork in the road, choose the one that leads to life.
Getting back to Matthew, I think in this passage, Jesus echoes Moses…
he explains what it means to choose life,
to love God, obey god, and keep god’s commandments.
As David Lose says,
It’s not enough not to murder Jesus says;
to choose life is to treat others with respect
both with actions and words.
It’s not enough to avoid the physical act of adultery Jesus says;
to choose life is to stop seeing other women or men
as objects for our own desires.
It’s not enough to follow the letter of the law in terms of divorce Jesus says;
to choose life is to make sure that the most vulnerable
are cared for.
(and in Jesus’ day, women and children made destitute from divorce,
were among the most vulnerable.)
It’s not enough to swear an oath to signify you’re telling the truth, Jesus says;
to choose life is to speak and act truthfully all the time.
We make lots of choices every day.
Most of them are relatively minor:
Should I wear black socks or the gray ones?
Can I afford to hit the snooze button one more time?
Can I get away with skipping my homework today?
It’s hard to decide how black or gray socks would be more life-giving…
But in the midst of these minor choices,
every day we also make choices between life and death
conscious or not.
When we pass by a homeless person on the street,
whether or not we do something about it is a choice.
Jesus says to choose life.
When someone cuts us off on the road,
how we respond is a choice.
Jesus says to choose life.
When our kids mess up and come home having made some bad choices,
what we do is a choice.
Jesus says to choose life.
When there is a significant choice to be made,
it often involves people and relationships.
When making a decision,
Jesus says, choose life.
Even Jesus doesn’t always take the bible literally it seems;
He re- interprets the commandments to say
choose people and relationships over the letter of the law –
That is what is meant by loving God, obeying God and keeping God’s commandments.
It isn’t always easy to choose life,
but we’ve had a couple of good examples of it this week in our world!
When a Russian cross country skier fell three times
and then broke his ski,
a Canadian coach gave him a ski and even bent down to put it on his foot,
so he could finish the race.
That coach chose life.
When Judge Wright Allen ruled against
Virginia’s ban on same sex marriage,
she chose people; she chose relationships; she chose life.
Sincere people of faith grapple with this issue,
but it’s hard to go wrong when the end result is choosing life.
Love one another.
Then you will keep the law and the commandments.
Thanks be to God.