Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Our Gospel reading for this morning continues with another passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is referring back to laws or commandments found in Deuteronomy and helping his disciples and followers know what God really intends. This passage is really scary! Can any of us say that we have never been angry, that we have never insulted anyone, that we have never called anyone an idiot? We may have never committed adultery, but can any of us honestly say that we have never looked at someone else with sexual desire.
The only time I can remember my father ever hitting me was when I called one of my sisters a stupid idiot. I do not remember which sister or what I was angry about, but I sure remember Dad taking me to the basement, finding a suitable piece of wood and slapping my hand. I don’t remember it particularly hurting physically, just the fact that my father actually hit me. What I really remember is the feeling of injustice! My sisters swore and called names all the time so why was I being punished. My father explained to me that if I intended not to swear or use bad words then I should also refrain from calling my sisters names. I have remembered this lesson all my life.
It does not mean I have never been angry or frustrated because I can assure you that I have been. Just ask Jon. We even read about God being angry in the Old Testament and Moses calming God down. God was angry with the people before the flood. God was angry with the people in the desert after their rescue from Egypt. God was angry with the people of Sodom and Gomorra. Jesus sure looks to be angry in the temple when he turns over the money changers tables. Anger and frustration is a normal human response to a situation that we have no control over, when bad things happen, so what is Jesus saying? Jesus is telling his disciples and us that our actions and words have consequences. If I am angry and throw a pot and it makes a hole in the wall, there is a repair to be made. If I am angry and throw a spoon and it cuts my sister’s lip, stitches are required whether I intended to hurt my sister or not. When I drink too much and get behind the wheel of a car and think it will be funny to scare a couple teenagers on the side of the road and misjudge the distance and kill one and leave the other a quadriplegic, there are consequences to my actions. When we bully and harass and call another names and then hear they have committed suicide, we know that words do hurt and there are consequences to our actions. The consequences of our words and actions may not always be so dramatic, but they do have an effect slowly eating away at the self-confidence of the other. Jesus is telling us to consider the effect of what we do and say, that we are responsible for their impact on another person, that we are our brother and our sister’s keeper.
Adultery is wanting what belongs to another. Divorce can result in the spouse having no means to support themselves and their children. Spouses and children should not be treated like objects that can be replaced on a whim. Not wanting the responsibilities of a family or not wanting to make decisions based on the needs of another are not valid reasons to walk away from our family. We are not to make others into sex objects for our own pleasure. I am sorry, but I am offended by billboards that show young girls and women in suggestive poses on the I-94. What message is this sending to our daughters and granddaughters? What message is this sending to our sons and grandsons? I don’t believe Jesus is saying that we should stay in an abusive marriage or a loveless, thankless relationship. And I don’t think Jesus is saying that a divorcee is then required to live alone for the rest of their lives without love or friendship. I am not saying sexual desire is wrong. I do believe that Jesus is saying that a person is accountable and responsible for the consequences of their actions, that a person is to consider the impact of their words and actions on other people, their spouses, their children, their employees, and those who watch them, that they are responsible for the example they are setting and the hurt they cause.
Jon and I went to see the movie “A Dog’s Purpose” this week. We enjoyed the book and the movie, but you need lots of Kleenex. In one of the stories, the father was an excellent salesman, but wanted to be in management. He was a “the glass is half empty” type of guy and made his wife and his son’s life miserable. Instead of celebrating his successes as a top salesman, he mourned his perceived losses and slights. He took to drinking and being abusive to his family and eventually lost them.
The Sermon on the Mount is about moral and ethical behavior, about how followers of Jesus should act. Jesus is referring to the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not murder”, the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and the ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”. Of course it is important not to kill or to commit adultery or to lie, but Jesus is saying that this is not enough. We are not to hurt another person physically, emotionally, or spiritually, that we need to consider the consequences of our action. I am not talking about people who can find an insult in anything we say or people who refuse to accept responsibility for themselves, but I am saying that if another is injured by our actions we need to accept our share of the responsibility for the consequences of our actions. With God’s help, we are called to lead lives of integrity and honesty, to be someone that people can trust to keep our word and do what we say we will do, to be peaceful, compassionate people who put the needs of others ahead of our own, who consider the consequences of our actions and people who accept responsibility for our words and our actions. Amen.