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Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's in your heart?

Matthew 5:21-37.

It's a tough gospel this morning.

If Jesus were to give out those Valentine Heart Candies in church this morning, instead of "Be Mine" or "Hot Stuff" or "True Love", His Gospel Valentines would say, "Anger", "Adultery", "Divorce", "Do No Murder","Oath" "Yes=Yes," "No=No".

Jesus is making it pretty clear that if you are going to follow Him, you are not only going to have to follow all the laws and the commandments, you are going to have to put your heart and soul into it.

It's not just about following the commandment that says, "You shall not commit adultery." If you are married and you even look at another person with lust in your heart, well, says Jesus, you have committed adultery in your heart and you are just as guilty as if you acted on it.

Former President Jimmy Carter made that one passage of scripture almost as well known as the story of the Nativity.

Jesus went even further. It not about having a legal divorce. When you married, your vows were for life. Even if you get a legal divorce, you are still married in the eyes of God. If you remarry, you are committing adultery.

And, if you're going to make a vow of any kind then make sure you can keep it before you make it. Otherwise, you are simply consorting with the Evil One.

Not exactly the warm-fuzzy messages about "Love and Marriage" which the media is putting out for Valentine's Day tomorrow.

Life, as Forrest Gump says, may be like a box of chocolates, but Jesus says that the commitments of the heart are not. Understand, he says, that the vows you make on earth are sealed in heaven.

"Blessed are the pure in heart," said Jesus "for they shall see God." (Mt. 5:8).

In criticizing the quest for material wealth, Jesus says that "where our treasure is, there will our heart be also" (Mt. 6:21 and Lk. 12:34).

In lambasting the religious elite for their hypocrisy, he demands, "How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mt.12:34-5; Lk. 6:45).

If you want to be a follower of Jesus, the first thing is that you gotta have heart - as that old song from "Damn Yankees" goes - "miles and miles and miles of heart".
Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First, you gotta have heart.
I suspect if there are any "young lovers" in the pews this morning, they probably won't hear these words of Jesus applied to them in any way. Romantic love is not only blind, it's often deaf as a doornail.

Usually, when Jesus teaches to his disciples like this, it often means that the Pharisees are somewhere nearby, within hearing range, primed for a conflict.

These words of Jesus come right after "The Beatitudes" - from The Sermon on the Mount". He certainly had a large audience.

I suspect these words were not only meant for those who followed Jesus, but also for any who might consider following him, as well as those - like the Pharisees and Sadducees - who may have doubted his commitment to his mission.

One can hear these words from Jesus as being about Jesus, too.

His essence.

What's in his heart.

And, it's this: Love.

He's not playin'. He's in this for real. For life. For ever. And, ever.

And, so should those who follow Him or profess to love God.

In the ancient words of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4):
"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" (Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad).
"Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever."
"And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."
"And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
"And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes."
"And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."
In Mark's Gospel it is reported that one of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus responded by reciting a portion of the Shema and then ended with these words, "The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

For Jesus, it's all about Love - the commitment of love. The embodiment of love.

Because, God is love.

And, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, that's the best Valentine's Day message anyone could get.


SCG said...


Anonymous said...

And we should return hatred with love. We should return bigotry with love. By doing this we will shed God's light.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Anonymous. Please consider leaving your name, next time you come to visit.

howdidIgethere said...

I’ve been reading your blog for some time, but this is my first comment. Sorry for the length.

This gospel has troubled me for many years. I am a woman in late middle-age, soon to be twice divorced. My first divorce was almost 30 years ago from an alcoholic husband. In the near future, I will be divorced from a husband who, after over 19 years of successful (I thought) marriage and two wonderful daughters, announced suddenly that he no longer wanted to be married to me.

Hearing this gospel last week, (thanks to the common lectionary) I was struck for the first time, that Jesus was specifically addressing men, instructing them to give their wives a certificate of divorce. I presume this was preferable to just abandoning or expelling her. (Obviously women had no such privilege, nor did the husband require “grounds”.) And then Jesus warned that, even with such a bill of divorce, should the wife marry again, she would be an adulteress. The implication is that it doesn’t seem to matter what the wife did or did not do – she is still an adulteress if she remarries.

Then this follows “But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife,” – obviously men – “except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery;” – divorced wife is adulteress – “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” What about the man who divorces his wife (not because of “unchastity”) and remarries a single or widowed woman? Does that not make him an adulterer, too?

Of course the roles of men and women were different in the time of Jesus, but, seeing what I saw this time, this passage now troubles me on an additional level.

Thank you for your writings but, I confess, I still don’t know what to take away. Therefore, as a life-long Lutheran, I remain simply and immensely grateful for God’s grace.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear How - first of all, thanks for your visits and for leaving this comment. It's very courageous of you.

I think we get into trouble with passages like this when we try to apply a situation that happened in antiquity to our modern - or, postmodern, actually situations. It just doesn't translate well.

One quick, albeit simplistic analogy I can think of is trying to explain the word "groovy" without talking about the time in which that word came into popularity.

Context. Context. Context.

It would be like trying to explain to Luther what has happened to the Lutheran churches since he first posted his Thesis on the Cathedral door.

Your question is not unlike the Sadducees question to Jesus in Mark's gospel about the man who was married seven times. They wanted to know which woman would be his wife in heaven.

Jesus said, "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven."

Here's what I take from Jesus that I think is timeless: the vows we make on earth are sealed in heaven. The judgment we receive about the vows we make and break is not here on earth. Your soon-to-be ex husband may be a scoundrel but you are not an adultress.

You are, as you say, simply a woman immensely grateful for God's grace. There's no better state of being than that.