February 16, 2014
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
(revised from a homily first
posted on 2.8.11)
The Lectionary Gospel Reading for this, the sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, continues in earnest Jesus' teaching called, The Sermon On The Mount.
No Murder Not even anger
No Adultery Not even an adulterous thought
Divorce for Indecency No divorce
No false oaths No oaths at all
An eye for an eye No retaliation
Love your neighbor Love your enemies
How is the Sermon to be interpreted?Simply put, the sermon interprets to humans the reality of true humanness.
To see what was a stake for Israel and for us in this regard, let us pay close attention to an example passage from Ezekiel 36:
22 Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. (EZ 36:22-29)If we only had more time to unpack this text. Suffice it for now the we only notice the promises contained within these words of the prophet:
I will take you; I will gather you
I will cleanse you
I will give you a new heart
I will put my spirit within you
I will save you from all your uncleanness
We could unpack this issue in a rather obtuse way:
Does Jesus interpret Paul, or does Paul interpret Jesus?If we say that Jesus, is the highest point of GOD’s self-revelation, and that it is his life that interprets the whole, we would take this to mean that Jesus interprets Paul. Said differently, we must take Jesus' words and works with the utmost seriousness, and allow them to tell us what St. Paul meant.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17)I understand this to mean that we can no longer afford to hide behind a false dichotomy between “law and grace.” We must not run from the law or explain it away. To know that Jesus fulfills the law, every moment of it means, therefore, we follow the living, risen Christ toward the law of GOD as well, which is the heart and the calling of the Sermon.
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!" (Matthew 7:24-27)So, we are here confronted with the deep question of just how the law is meant to be lived for non-Hebrews in the present here and now, separated as we are far from the original languages and cultures? That is, what are we to actually do?
Here, I want to rely upon the thoughts of the Hebrew Bible scholar, Walter Brueggemann who is an excellent bridge for our understanding.
Brueggemann writes this:
"The new commands at Sinai voiced YHWH's dream of a neighborhood, YHWH's intention for the common good. There was not common good in Egypt, because people in a scarcity system cannot entertain the common good."He goes on to write:
"This narrative from anxiety through abundance to neighborhood invites us to rethink the intention of the Ten Commandments. They are not rules for deep moralism. They are not commonsense rules designed to clobber and scold people. Rather, they are the most elemental statement of how to organize social power and social goods for the common benefit of the community. They are indeed ‘a new commandment’ that is quite in contrast to the old commands of Pharaoh.” (from Journey To The Common Good go here and here)Again, I take this to mean that to follow the Christ we must actually live the new-law-reality into our current communities of faith. Let this sink in for a moment. I am now saying that we must grapple with this new-law-reality presented by Jesus, and I am arguing that the Sermon on the Mount is therefore to be our practice. As I have often said, the Jesus-way, supremely, is something to be done. OK, great. We get that, but, what are we to specifically do?
In sum, we love GOD first and we love our neighbor first. This is the mission of the church and these practices embody Jesus’ mission of redemption and reconciliation of the world. This is what it means to be a new humanity and a renewed community, and, therefore, to obey the commands found in this Sermon means we acutely understand that we have a part, even a key part, in GOD's reclamation project because it matters supremely how we live and what we do.
Well, to be honest, I do not know. In fact, I am not at all sure we can get where we need to be. But I am sure we cannot do so on our own.
I think the answer may lie somewhere by acting from two directions simultaneously.
“GOD, I give myself to you this day. Give me the heart of flesh; give me the spirit of cleanness. Give me a truly human life."
Second, we must mount this search for the reality of humanness together. That is, the community must launch out into the deep practices of the Sermon on the Mount as community, with both accountability and grace-filled love. This ultimately means leading our faith-neighborhood to understand that no matter how the culture lives, we are different, we are part of a unique community (Titus 2:11-12). It also means lifting each other up in grace when we miserably fail to fulfill these commands of Jesus, who is the Christ (Galatians 6:2), finding in each other the presence of the risen Christ.