Sunday, 12 February 2017

The simple life

Gospel Matthew 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

The word that is translated here as 'Law' – actually means something more like ‘instruction’. The Law that is the Ten Commandments, has required much consideration; much translation and much discernment by teachers and prophets over the years; wondering if God really did mean 'this' or 'that' when they were given over. All this  resulting in the development of over 600 rules and guidelines – 613 instructions - about how to follow the Ten. 

Unfortunately, it seems that, as each Commandment is broken down into its multiple characteristics; the essence becomes more and more vague.

The beauty of this is that it is so much easier to play with. And as  police officers probably make the best burglars; so those that study the Law know best how to find their way around it. 

Something Matthew's Jesus struggles with time and time again. Because the Law was not made to be ‘found a way around’- particularly when much of the way around involves prestige and influence or leads to exclusion.

Jesus understands that circumstances run away with us; that we didn’t mean this or that and yet; here we are;  the more choice we get the harder it gets to make a choice; the more twists and turns the easier to get lost.

Despite the twists and turns of the this Gospel; the truth is right in the centre. Whatever you do, however you act, you must do and act out of love.

The prophet Micah sets out the Law...

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God.(6:8)

...and because you walk humbly with your God so will you walk with your neighbour. 

Jesus calls us back to relationship, reminding us of our place within the Kingdom of Heaven. How are we ever going to act justly or love mercy when greed and envy demand our attention? How can we be humble when our hearts are wired to worldly desires and attachments?  How is it good to treat others as commodities to use up and discard?

We won't, we can't and it isn't - and deep inside we know. We belittle ourselves in our treatment of others.

The threats that Jesus make could also be his fears. Fears that he and his Father will lose us in the mess of life; in our inability to admit we are wrong; in our unwillingness to walk with our God. 

Vatican II introduced the idea of ressourcement to spiritual life. The retrieval and renewal of what is good - the return to the source, laying aside all that has got in the way.

Jesus makes this invitation, this plea - to say 'no', to say 'yes' - to stay close - to live in Heaven's sight.



Lynda said...

Yes, we are the ones who complicate the simple life. Thanks for this insightful reflection.

Gelli Ma said...

Thanks Lynda