This is the first word of the fulfillment of God’s law. Blessed. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are you when people say all kinds of horrible things about you because of what you say or do for my sake. Blessed.
Then last week, Jesus told us we were the salt of the earth. The light of the world. Really? Us? Yes. Jesus shines through you.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus gives us four examples of the fulfillment of the law. I am going to touch on the first, third and fourth, and then dig down a little more deeply into the second, because this is the week of Valentine’s day.
First example. Jesus says “You have heard it said, “You shall not murder.” But I say to you, anyone who is angry, orgidzo, enraged, furious with someone, to the point where we call names, to the point where that person is no longer a person to us, but an object, a thing. That’s murder. One summer I worked in a prison as part of my seminary training and the guards used to say, “Some of these people have not behaved as human beings, but we treat them as human beings anyway.” Treat people as people.
Jesus says, “you have heard it said if a man wants to divorce his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” Men could divorce their wives for the most frivolous of reasons. And if you were a woman and you husband divorced you, you could be in big trouble. You would have to go back to your father’s house, where you would be far less valuable than before because you were a far less attractive prospect for marriage. You could easily end up on the street.
Jesus tightens the restriction on divorce so that people could not just cast off women as if they were objects with no value, but instead uphold their commitments to them as people. We are also required to work on our commitments, which we have made to real people, and not cast them aside as if they were objects either.
Jesus says don’t swear by heaven or earth or even your own head because you don’t own any of them. Just tell the truth. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Because people have the dignity of God in them. And you don’t lie to God. So don’t lie to people.
You see the theme. We are to treat one another with God’s dignity.
Jesus says if you look at someone with lust, that is, epithumos, with the desire to possess, to manipulate, to control, to use for pleasure without any regard for how they think or what makes them laugh or what they would like to find out or what they would like to do before they die. When you just want to use someone for how they make you feel. How they make you feel happy, you feel comfortable, you feel excited, you feel in control, you feel strong, you feel young, you feel prestigious, we are using them like objects.
Jesus uses language here to show us he feels very strongly about this point. Right? Jesus says, if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. See, this is where I think Jesus is using a way of speaking called hyperbole. Jesus is overstating his point in order to make his point. I certainly hope it is hyperbole, because otherwise, things would have gone very badly for me sitting behind Leslie Morris in seventh grade English class.
Yes. When Leslie walked by, I couldn’t breath. Leslie Morris could have killed me without even knowing. All she had to do was go up to the board and diagram a sentence for Mrs. Newton. Would have taken only fifteen or twenty minutes walking back and forth in front of that board diagramming a sentence. I would have turned purple and keeled over from not breathing. They would have called the ambulance and taken me to the hospital where I would have been declared dead on arrival. And everybody would have wondered what had happened to that dirpy kid with the long hair in English class who fell out of his desk, dead as a door-nail there on the floor. Leslie Morris would have said to her friends, ‘They told me he died of asphyxiation but they couldn’t say what caused it.”
Yes. Plucking out an eye from looking at people the wrong way, sitting behind Leslie Morris in seventh grade English, would have been blind as a bat in fifteen minutes, tops.
On the other hand, if we see people manifestations of God’s beauty. A fine looking gentleman walks by with a bit of a swing to his shoulders. You ask, “What’s his name?” A woman walks by with a mysterious smile that looks like she knows something really funny that the rest of us are missing, You ask, “What’s she thinking?”
Appreciation. Romance. That is an entirely different thing. It ebbs and flows over the years. One does well to give it some nurturing. Gentlemen, you know that a rose upon occasion does not go amiss. Yes, you do. Ladies, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I will remind you that us guys are not always the brightest bulbs on the porch. Sometimes we forget that you like us, even if you’ve told us. A clever card every once and a while or a gentle touch helps.
But attraction, romance becomes powerful, strong enough to shake the earth when it stops having that much to do with how we feel, and instead becomes a choice, a discipline of mind, a lifestyle. That’s love.
You get home, you’re tired. You don’t feel particularly attractive. You don’t want to feel attractive. You are kind of empty. Not got much to give. Then you see your beloved, and something has happened that’s worse than just a bad day. Hard news from family or a difficult visit with the doctor or a pink slip from work. And you don’t feel like being there for them, but you know what, it doesn’t matter how you feel. You suck it in, put on your big kid pants, and reach down below yourself, deeper than your own love to God’s love. And you love that person with God’s love, just as you would love any human being. Because that is where real romance, real love comes from. That’s where all love comes from of whatever kind. God’s love, simple love for a real human being.
You put your hand on her back, and you say to him, “Honey, what’s wrong? You want to tell me about it.”
God’s law, the precepts by which human beings thrive and the universe spins, by which children laugh and the core of the earth glows, God’s law has to do with honoring God’s dignity in each other.
Now, do we do that? Actually, no, not really. But that’s not the point, either, is it. It’s not about us. It’s about God. And God does it. God fulfills God’s law. God honors God’s dignity in all human beings. God loves you.
The fulfillment of God’s law, the reality of God’s love begins at the Sermon on the Mount, but it does not end there. It goes on to another mountain, Calvary, where God loves us so much, even when we are murdering, even when we are treating God as an object, even when we are lying to ourselves and God and everyone, God still loves us so much God dies for us. At the cross, Jesus comes to us in our most unattractive, brutal, hateful places and loves us there. God’s love doesn’t stop there either.
It meets the disciples on another mountaintop at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, where the risen Christ meets the disciples. It meets us right here, right now today, poking and prodding and dragging us kicking and screaming into the realm of God with relentless, relentless grace. It will continue to meet us, this fulfillment of God’s law, this love, forever, holding us in God’s light.
You and I, we try to honor God’s dignity in each other. Sometimes we get close. Sometimes we fail. God always honors God’s dignity in us. God always wins.