Ten commandments on steroids?

A sermon for Epiphany 6 | 1 Cor. 3:1-9 and Matt. 5:21-37

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ou may have noticed that over the past few weeks I have been giving sermons on a sermon. Often it is thought that the Sermon on the Mount just consists of the Beatitudes, but as you are seeing the narration is much more than that. Really I should just read the whole sermon and be done with it. Jesus has much better things to say than anything I can come up with.

But that is not what we do, we break it down into pieces, often reading it out of context and make all kinds of assumptions about the small piece that we read. That has been the case for this piece of the sermon far too often, at times it has been known as the antithesis, the assumption that Jesus contrasts the legalism of the Torah with a new higher righteousness teachings.

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Unfortunately this thought feeds anti-Semitism, suggesting that the old is negated by the new. Christianity is a religion of forgiveness, whereas Judaism is a religion of Law. According to Mr Stanley Hauerwas, Protestants like to cast Catholicism as the Christian form of Judaism, that being legalistic.

The other way that this piece gets read is to prove, through the use of hyperbole that humanity can never achieve the standard of the Law. I don’t believe this to be the case either, I think here are a few things going on in this passage. David Lose a professor at a Lutheran seminary said “While this reading takes the ethical demands of the faith seriously, however, it disastrously renders the Christian life almost entirely a matter of morality. I mean, did Jesus really have to die so that we could have the Ten Commandments on steroids?” These Jewish teachings that Jesus references are the basis upon which he explains how relationships work within the kingdom of God. He uses well known Law and expands it to make radical statements about the Kingdom.

Perhaps one of the most radical aspects of Jesus statements of the law, is the internalisation of it, so that not only behaviours, but attitudes and emotions fall within its scope. Of course, this should not be new to Jewish thinking. Throughout Hebrew Scriptures, the law is to be taken to heart. The psalmist cries, “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” Another one “The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip.” It is not only outwardly observed, it is an internal attitude.

The whole of the Law is actually a way of pointing us toward ways of being in right relationship with each other. But somehow we forget that, and so get caught up in keeping the law for the law’s sake. Jesus connects the dots for his listeners from outward acts to internal intention, from murder to anger, from adultery to lust. It is one thing to behave correctly, to do all the things you know you are supposed to do. It is another thing entirely for any of us to have the right motivation for doing the right thing. He exposes the easy excuses we make. We can pat ourselves on the back for not committing murder, while we ruin the reputation of a co-worker through the anger of our words.

We can pat ourselves on the back for not committing adultery, and yet create primary relationships with work, sports, or even the internet, rather than our spouse. Jesus shifts our attention from outward displays of maintaining the law to interior motivations, because its about relationships. Jesus wants more for us. He wants us to regard each other as God regards us and thereby to treat each other accordingly. Jesus is getting radical about the law precisely by calling us to look beyond the law it see its goal and end: the life and health of our neighbour! In this way, Jesus does “not abolish but fulfill” the law.

Our daily newscast is filled with story after story of individuals who are dehumanised and rendered victims of a society that no longer values relationships and has ceased loving neighbour as self.  The reason that Egypt is dominating so much of the news right now is because what the people have done is create change without the incredible amount of violence that would usually accompany such a revolution.

So for the most part, damaged relationships are everywhere, and it is easy to look at the problems and name them as the fault of others but the bigger challenge comes when we dare to find ourselves in the midst and ask how am I contributing to the problem? Or, how can I bring difference to what I observe around me? This is exactly what Paul is preaching about to the church in Corinth. Over the past few weeks we have heard that there is fighting among them. Paul is echoing Jesus when he tells them, “ Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?”

The disciples were not called to be different, just for the sake of being different. The followers of Jesus were different because of the way Jesus taught them how to be in relationship with others. Paul is continuing that teaching. The sermon is not addressed to individuals, neither is Paul’s letter, but to community, it is the constitution of a people. The ethos of the community must be different to the world around it, back to the salt and light thing again.

Paul is emphasising that we are all on the same team, and Jesus is telling us how the team is going to play. Hauerwas says “The sermon therefore is not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered around Jesus. To be saved is to be so gathered…We are called, therefore, to be perfect. Perfection does not mean that we are free of anger and lust. Rather to be perfect is to learn how to be part of a people who take time to live without resorting to violence to sustain their existence. To so live requires habits like learning to tell one another the truth, to be faithful in our promises to one another, to seek reconciliation.” We are gathered, we are different, it is always a useful exercise to examine the description of the way we live as a people.

Who is the community of saint benedict’s table? Are we known for being different in this community? What are the habit we could be cultivating among ourselves? Where can we be in better relationship with others? Bearing in mind that it is only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose; the love of neighbour. For we are God’s servants, working together. That’s the call!

AMEN

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