Epiphany 6A - Matthew 5:21-37

Matthew 5:21-37 (NIV)

 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,  and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. 

 

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, … What was said may have been our Sunday School lessons or Confirmation classes where we were taught the Scriptures – the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, Baptism, Confession and Absolution and Holy Communion, Scripture verses and hymns, sermons or other discussion.

All of this may have been derived from the Law, the Prophets and the Apostles and teachers of the Church and interspersed with the teachings and practices of the world we live in.

In Jesus’ teaching He refers to Moses, the Prophets, and perhaps the later Jewish writings of famous Rabbis like Hillel and Shammai (from the 1st Century BC).

Over time, from when Moses first delivered the Ten Commandments from Mt Sinai to the Hebrew people many false understandings had developed and grown which left and still leave people confused and deluded that their version of the “truth” is the only truth.

This was particularly true in religious practice and ritual where to “perform” the ritual had become the most important thing in the religious life of the community. This attitude leads to people to say or imply that “I’ve done my religious bit – now I can live as I please”.

With these words, 21 “You have heard that it was said … Jesus invites His Disciples to come to a true and clear understanding of the truth of the words sent by God to bring people into a relationship with Himself and guide His people into holy living in community.

The Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by St Matthew in chapters five to seven in the Gospel account is not a new law or teaching but a true exposition or explanation of what the Law of God actually means in practical terms for His people and the world, for you and me.

There is, as Jesus explains, more to “Do not murder.” Than the literal act of taking someone’s life by bringng about their physical death.

There is more to the commandment which says, “Do not be unfaithful in marriage.” than the act of physically committing adultery. There is more to the commandment which says, “Do not tell lies about anyone.” than telling lies.

The Rev Dr Martin Luther, in writing his Small and Large Catechisms, picks up on this when he says after each commandment quoted from Exodus chapter 20 and Deuteronomy chapter five, “This means for us we should fear and love God so we should not …” and then “…instead we should …” and he goes on to say about each commandment what the implications for daily living are in the light of the commandment.

For example:

“Do not tell lies about anyone.” We should honour and love God, and so we should not tell lies about other people, give their secrets away, talk about them behind their back, or damage their reputation in any way. Instead, we should speak up for them, say only good things about them, and explain their action in the kindest way.”

          Remember that Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 (NIV) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

          There is no contradiction in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount over against the Old Testament. Jesus is clarifying what is, and what is not, the truth the Scripture imparts to us. As the Biblical scholar Michael Eschelbach puts it when writing about today’s sermon theme,

“ Jesus was not contradicting the Old Testament, rather, He was clearly distinguishing between what the people had been taught and what God’s Law actually said and intended.”

          Jesus wants us to clearly understand what His Father, God, says to us today by properly understanding that it is the same as what He first said in the Scriptures from where we should as the LCANZ’s Thesis of Agreement says,

“… believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the infallible Word of God …”

And that they are the,

“… only source and norm of Christian doctrine and the sure and authoritative guide for life and practice.”

          What God says and means is not always what we remember or think God said from our early learning and teaching given to us Hence we are to continue to read and study God’s Word to ensure that what we have been and are being taught is true.

St Paul says of the Berean Jews in Acts 17:11 (NIV) were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

          When we look at the commands of Jesus in the last few verses of St Matthew’s Gospel note the things Jesus says His Church is to do: Matthew 28:19–20 (NIV)

go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

        The “teaching” is in the present active tense grammatically, which means it is to be done now as a continuous process. We are to continue to teach. You didn’t graduate at the conclusion of your Confirmation lessons or Bible Class.

As in your professional life, you need to continue to grow in knowledge and wisdom and we are to continue to teach all who Jesus brings into His Church.

          When we stop teaching and learning we die, because, like a plant without water we shrivel up, and we cease to exist by becoming irrelevant and out of touch with Jesus, who is in His words the water of life.

          When you “go”, “Baptise” and “teach” Jesus is, as He says, with you always, to the very end of the age.” When we are immersed in God’s Word the Holy Spirit will work in and through us, helping us to know and do God’s will.

          There are differences between religious opinion and traditions (which we all have) and what Jesus actually teaches in the New Testament. Our text contains some examples of what God’s Word, the Law and the Prophets, actually mean as Jesus teaches about anger, lust, divorce and oaths.

          All of these topics, and more, are part of our lives as we live in the world where anger is regularly displayed and the consequences of it are worked out with people being hurt and even dying – that’s why Jesus died on the cross – because of human anger and violence so that He could with His resurrection, bring freedom from anger and its consequences.

          Lust and its consequences are part of our everyday experience too as we are exposed to it’s consequences with unwanted pregnancies, separation and divorce for unfaithfulness, unhealthy desire for sexual fulfilment outside of the marriage relationship between one man and one woman God ordained and said was “good”.

In a previous parish there was a solo mum who was in an unhealthy inappropriate relationship with a man who was not the father of her child.
She knew the relationship was wrong. It was God’s Word which convicted her heart to the truth of the situation, to repent and leave the relationship. Within twelve months she had met and married a lovely Christian man whom she married. She could do this because of God’s grace giving her a new start in life.

Jesus speaks clearly and surely through His Word into our everyday lives and He invites us to continue to examine and test what He says against what “someone” once said about what He says.

As Eschelbach says, “The only way to live by these words of Jesus is according to the soul that is filled with the Spirit of God, which works faith and longs for eternal relationships with God and others.”

How about committing yourself to re-visiting what God has taught you and continues to teach in His Word by participating in a Bible Study Group (we can establish one), Care and Share Group (beginning again on the 23rd, this Thursday) or Home Group (on the 2nd and 4th Thursday evenings of each month).

So, rather than saying, You have heard that it was saidYou can confidently say, “this is what the Lord says …”             

Amen.