Matthew 5:21-37 (6th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 13, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson for today recorded in Matthew 5:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
In our Gospel lesson today Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount. Last Sunday’s reading concluded, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” You feel sort of funny saying, “This is the Gospel of the Lord,” when the reading ends on such a stinging note of Law. Jesus today teaches us what this exceeding righteousness looks like. Jesus reveals God’s original intention in the Law. But where there is Law, you can bank on the fact that it will be balanced by the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder.’” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need. The Fifth Commandment is a pretty easy one for most of us, I suppose. None of the scribes and Pharisees would say that they had ever sinned against this commandment—they had never murdered another. But the disciple’s righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees. That’s why Jesus then said, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Now the Fifth Commandment starts hitting a little too close to home. God forbids us to take the life of another person (murder, abortion, euthanasia) or to take our own life. God forbids us to hurt or harm our neighbor physically, that is to do or say anything which may destroy, shorten, or make his or her life bitter. While I might be near perfect on point one, point two shows disaster. Have you ever kept anger and hatred in your heart against your neighbor? Jesus says that’s enough to sin against the Fifth Commandment. Has the anger or hatred in your heart ever given way to hurtful speech or actions against someone else? Far too often. Our righteousness doesn’t exceed that of the Pharisees, does it?
But Jesus’ righteousness does. Did Jesus harbor anger and hatred in His heart for the Jewish leaders who handed Him over to Pontius Pilate to be crucified? Did Jesus become angry and hateful with Pilate or the soldiers given the crucifixion task that day? Was Jesus filled with resentment or rage toward people whose sins He was bearing as He suffered a bloody death on a cross? No. He only spoke words of love and mercy and forgiveness, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forgive the Jewish leaders, Pilate, the soldiers, and all the people of the world for whose sins He suffered and died.
Because you and I have received the free forgiveness of Jesus, you and I are now able to forgive each other. In the power of Christ’s forgiveness flowing through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to set aside anger and hatred and go and be reconciled. Our heavenly Father wants us to follow Christ’s example to forgive and to do good to those who sin against us. As Jesus will tell us later in the Sermon on the Mount, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) When you and I forgive others in Jesus’ name it shows that we truly believe that God has forgiven us in Christ. “Inasmuch as we sin greatly against God every day and yet He forgives it all through grace, we must always forgive our neighbor who does us harm, violence, and injustice, and bears malice toward us.” (LC III) Because we have Christ’s righteousness given to us and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, in faith, we can do these good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other. This time the Sixth Commandment gets too close. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. . . . But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
God’s will is that His people demonstrate sexual purity in inner thought as well as outward action. What goes on in our hearts and minds is just as messed up as what people see in our words and deeds. Impure thoughts are a real danger to the life of discipleship. The February Lutheran Witness has an article on “Raising Children in a Sensual Society.” “Children, teenagers, and young adult of both genders,” the article reports, “have engaged in sexting, that is, sending nude photos or explicitly sexual messages through cell phones. Using personal Web pages, young people have posted naked pictures of themselves or friends. Some youth have used computer Web cameras to video stream live sexual activities.” And I might add that it’s not just young people, but adults as well.
This is precisely what Jesus warns us about today regarding God’s commandment of sexual purity. A person cannot rightly claim, “Well, I never slept with anyone so I didn’t do anything wrong.” Again, quoting from the Lutheran Witness, “We live in a highly sensual society that directly contradicts the Bible’s teaching on God’s intent for sexual relations.” And so we also see the ramifications of this in the divorce culture. Far too many people get divorced for reasons that the Bible says are not good ones. When someone says they are getting divorced for “irreconcilable differences,” the box checked by most people when filing for divorce, they are seeking to destroy and violate a marriage.
So it’s not just affairs, but affairs of the heart that are sinful—wandering eyes and divorce just because we’re not getting along. These are just as sinful as open acts of adultery, because they are examples of not loving God or our spouses from the heart. Yet, there again stands the Savior. Christ shed His blood on Calvary’s cross and paid for every affair and divorce and every lust-filled look at person or porn. Christ’s forgiveness received through the power of the Holy Spirit enables us then to intentionally avoid every sexual temptation. He helps us to be clean in what we think and say. The Spirit empowers you and me to use our sexuality in ways that are pleasing to God, as temples of the Holy Spirit.
“Again,” Jesus announced, “you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, life, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
Oh how the Second Commandment is violated by us daily! How easy the words roll off our lips, “Oh my God!” or for those texting OMG. How quickly the curses and swearing and unbecoming language flows. We curse when we blaspheme God’s name by speaking evil of Him or mocking Him, using His name flippantly or calling down the anger and punishment of God on oneself or other person or thing. We swear by God’s name when we take an oath in which we call on God to witness the truth of what we say or promise and to punish us if we life or break our promise. This is forbidden when we do it falsely, thoughtlessly, or in sinful, uncertain, or unimportant matters. “
But Jesus says, “Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” Jesus’ disciples are not to use words lightly or take such thoughtless oaths. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
As disciples of Christ, you and I are able to let our yes be yes and our no be no. For every lie and every oath, and every curse and every broken promise has been forgiven by Christ. Our lips have been opened to declare His praise. The image of Isaiah 6 comes to mind here. Isaiah said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” The one of the six-winged seraphim flew to Isaiah with a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched Isaiah’s mouth, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then Isaiah said, “Here am I! Send me.” Like Isaiah, our mouths have been cleansed by Jesus in order for us to be His mouthpieces in the world, sharing the Good News of forgiveness and eternal life.
You see, righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees before God is a matter of the heart. And by Jesus’ blood and His Holy Spirit, Christ has resolved that matter in our hearts because He has given us His own perfect righteousness. Because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we are forgiven for our sins of murder, adultery, and misuse of God’s name. Through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us we live a life of righteousness, empowered to obey God’s Word in what we think, and say, and do. The Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and Sacraments enables our hearts to produce Christ’s actions of righteousness in our lives. Yes, our sinful nature continues to sin. But our hearts are now filled with the forgiveness and righteousness of Christ so that we do love our neighbor, honor our bodies and our spouses, and treat others with honesty and integrity. Amen.