Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never 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 say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Today's lectionary text on first (and 100th!) reading is quite the clanger. It nearly feels out of context coming off the back of the Beatitudes and right before ‘love your enemies’. Of course the truth of it is we cannot miss the context or we can miss the point. We remind ourselves that Matthew is making the claim that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, that he is greater than Moses. As Moses delivered the Ten Commandments, here Jesus delivers his ‘Kingdom Constitution'. He is not scoffing at Moses or making light of it, he is doing what great teachers of faith do; he is wrestling with ancient text. He is affirming the Law and applying it to his current context, fleshing it outside of the confines of ‘right and wrong’ linear thinking and letting no one off the hook!
When reading these verses the words that jump out are ‘murder’, ‘adultery’, ‘divorce’. It can be easy to either all too quickly relate to these words and feel shame or quickly point and think ‘Well, they don’t apply to me so I’m good’, or perhaps worse still ‘At least I’m not like that’. Of course that’s not how Jesus works. Let’s not forget what Jesus has just talked about. ‘Blessed are those….’ A friend said the other day to me that he likes to think that ‘blessed’ here means ‘seen’. It may not be fact, but it feels true.
I sat with a girl today who used the word ‘murderer’ for a decision she made 10 years ago. I could feel her heart break and loss, guilt and shame as she shared her story which she had told no one before except a doctor on a lonely trip to England.
'Seen are those who mourn…'
Last week I sat with a lady who had an affair on her abusive husband, she wept as she said ‘This is not who I am.’
‘Seen are those who are poor at being spiritual…’
Tomorrow I will sit with a man who has lost everything in a divorce. Everything.
‘Seen are those who are meek…’
Everyone has a story, and everyones story deserves to be heard. Jesus never gives us '10 Step' rules on how to get to heaven but he does give us the hard and messy guidelines on how to live now. How to avoid hell of our own making now. Jesus teaches us how to live now in this broken, messy, heartbreaking yet beautiful, hopeful and wonderful world. He inspires us to reconcile, to not create an ‘other’. The talk of adultery and divorce and swearing falsely (if I’m getting at what Jesus is saying) make me look at my own relationships and how I am navigating them, especially when they get messy. Knowing that Jesus is the enfleshment of God, that he came in to our messy world of relationships and brokenness gives me hope that he understands, that his heart here is not a checklist but a guide map of how to be pure in heart, all the while giving us permission to be poor at being spiritual while seeking to love even our supposed enemies. I need all the help I can get.
Ferg Breen is married with two kids and is a counsellor, psychotherapist, lecturer and pastor in Dublin. He also performs motivational seminars inspired solely by the work of David Brent.