Thursday, February 10, 2011

Epiphany 6a - Matthew 5:21-37

Matthew 5:21-37
In the interest of full disclosure and without the benefit of the iPod confession app to categorize and keep track of my sins, I will confess that I have been angry and insulted a brother or sister on more than one occasion. I’ve sworn falsely and not carried out vows made to the Lord, albeit vows made in times of distress so perhaps that doesn’t count. I have committed adultery in my heart as well. I’ll also confess that I will likely repeat these offenses but will not be cutting off my right hand or gouging out my right eye. Oh yes, and my first marriage ended in divorce. Granted by all accounts I was the injured party and therefore I am grateful to Matthew’s Gospel for giving me a loophole through which to squeeze. Here’s the trouble with this text. No one can squeeze by this laundry list of sin but those who are angry with brothers and sisters can do so silently, whispering “You fool” under their breath. Those who fail to keep vows to the Lord keep it to themselves and the Lord isn’t talking. Those who look upon others with lust do so without anyone being the wiser, let alone the one being objectified. But those who carry the certificate of divorce, even when re-married, hear these words of Jesus differently. If Jesus knew the whole story, knew how painful and lonely and hurt I felt, and that I resisted divorce as long as I could because it was the wrong thing I never wanted to do but in the end was the only right thing I could do, what then Jesus, would you still condemn me? The church throughout the centuries speaking for Jesus has said "yes" and used these words to condemn women, but some men as well, to a life of cut off hands and plucked out eyes demanding they deny themselves rather than divorce the one who beats them every night or day after day makes them feel stupid or dirty or inadequate or simply unnecessary. We can sanitize these words of Jesus and say he’s speaking in hyperbole. We can say he means what he says and we better get serious about sin or suffer the consequence.  Or maybe we say the anger that destroys relationships, the lust that makes us less than human on both sides of the equation, the dishonesty of vows made and not kept and yes, the promise of the wedding day, so full of hope, so full of joy that ends under the cold hard light of the court is as much hell as anyone needs to know. So isn’t there a day of judgment? Of course there is. And we’re all guilty for the way we have failed to live these words or tried to avoid them or worse, the ways in which we who claim the name of Christ have twisted them. Heaven help us. And of course heaven did, though for Jesus it was hell.

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