Sunday, August 7, 2022
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
After we heard the gospel lesson read, in good Lutheran form we all responded – Thanks be to God. But one pastor shared that after reading this text, one parishioner loudly exclaimed, O MY LORD! O my Lord indeed!
Anybody else just the teensiest bit convicted by today’s scripture?
This is one tall order.
Jesus told us that he came to fulfill the Law – not to abolish it.
But here he puts the law on steroids. Suddenly,
Refraining from murder isn’t enough… now you must also refrain from harboring anger or calling someone a fool.
And it isn’t enough to simply keep your hands to yourself… you shouldn’t even look at another person in a way that objectifies him or her.
You are not justified in dismissing your spouse for no reason to live a life of helpless destitution just because you signed a piece of paper.
AND Stop swearing on your mother’s grave to validate what you say… rather, be so unfailingly truthful that “yes” and “no” is all that is required.
Scholars note that Jesus a LOT of hyperbole in this text to emphasize his point – in good Middle Eastern storytelling style. Thank goodness He doesn’t literally mean we should poke out our eyes or cut off our hands when we can’t stop sinning. If he did, we’d be the church of the blind and maimed.
How in the world do we understand all this – never mind live up to it?
Reading scripture in context is always a good first step to understanding what is going on. Immediately preceding today’s lesson Jesus’ words help frame the instructions that follow.
In Matthew 5:20 Jesus says, 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (REPEAT)
THAT was a jaw dropping statement for Jesus’ audience. Why? Because the Scribes and Pharisees were professional rule keepers. The ten commandments had been expanded to 613 laws and these religious leaders knew each by heart and were nit-picking exact in conforming to every. single. detail. Every day, all day.
How could anyone possibly surpass that kind of righteousness?
You can’t really – UNLESS… UNLESS their rule keeping kind of righteousness missed the point and the heart of the law. COMPLETELY.
Jesus follows this bombshell statement with a series of examples of a righteousness that is distinct from that of the Pharisees.
Each example is framed by the phrase, “You have heard it said, BUT I say to you.”
Over and over again in verses 21, 27, 31, 33, 38 and 43, “You have heard it was said, but I say to you.”
And what had they heard said? What was it the religious leaders taught?
It was an external conformity with the law. Behavior that the law required. Duty bound, rule keeping. The focus was on oneself. One’s own merit and effort.
But what I say to you, Jesus says…involves your heart. Your internal life, your thoughts, your attitudes, and the health of your relationships.
Jesus draws clear distinctions in these examples – theologians call them antitheses. The religious leaders focused on external performance –while Jesus focuses on internal integrity and wholehearted relationships.
Have you ever bit into a beautiful shiny deep red apple. And got a mouthful of nearly rotten mealy mush? Ugh. Well, what if that apple is not only rotten, but poison? Jesus describes the religious leaders a lot like this later in Matthew’s gospel. He says:
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28
Their external parade of religious deeds, done for selfish reasons and to make them feel superior is not true righteousness. These religious leaders may have not murdered, but when the poison of judgmentalism poured out as insults and contempt, it killed the spirits of those around them.
There are two ways here. One kills. The other brings life and light.
One shows off for selfish reasons. The other cares from a loving heart. When the heart is pure, the result is a true righteousness that shines from the inside out.
And yet, if we are honest, Jesus’ intensification of the law leaves us all convicted, muttering “OH MY LORD” – Because we know we cannot live up to Jesus’ standard. At least not by our own efforts.
But there is a way. Jesus said in verse 17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Did you hear that? I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.
This is key. Jesus is the only one who have ever perfectly fulfilled the law. He lived the Sermon on the Mount completely. Perfectly.
He gave his pure righteousness to you. As a gift. By grace.
Luther called this the Happy Exchange. On the cross, Jesus took on our sinfulness and died to it, and in exchange he gave us his righteousness. It is completely unmerited, unearned. Given out of love. We are made righteous in Christ.
The law still matters. Good works, they still matter. But we don’t have to white knuckle our way into God’s favor through our works. We are accepted. Children of the King. And Jesus is our righteousness.
And here is the amazing part. As we embrace the unconditional love and acceptance of God – all that external performance and superficial righteousness – it matters less and less. Instead, the Holy Spirit begins to work, transforming our hearts and minds from the inside out. So that we begin to desire what God desires. We are set free to follow him, to be honest, forgiving and to care for others.
William Cowper wrote. To see the Law by Christ fulfilled. To hear his pardoning voice. Changes a slave into a child. And duty into choice.
Jesus is preaching about an upside-down kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount. A kingdom radically different from that of the world. But we will never experience that upside-down Kingdom until we have an inside out kingdom. God’s kingdom shining out from our hearts into the world.