EPIPHANY 6, A – February 12, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Deut. 30:15-20; 1 Cor. 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37 

“You have heard that it was said… But I say to you….” (Matt. 5)

 

Recently I went down to the police station to do a ride-along. As I was chatting with the officers in line-up, an officer walked in and gave a bag to Officer Taylor, a young woman officer. As she opened it, Taylor laughed. She had recently taken a woman on a ride-along, and the woman had dropped off a thank-you card, a few small gifts for her kids, and some chocolates. “Boy, that’s really setting the bar high,” I said. I then turned to Officer Laudano, a fairly new officer whom I would be riding with, and said to her, “Don’t be expecting anything from me. I’ve never done that. And besides, I’m a guy, and guys don’t do that.” Taylor quickly responded, “Boy, that’s true!”

Thankfully, when it comes to ride-alongs with the police the bar is pretty low. Don’t get in the way and don’t give the officer reason to worry about you, and you’re ok. Us guys may also have a pretty low bar! But, when it comes to how you and I live our lives and deal with one another – and especially how we relate to our God – the bar is much higher. Since God is “your life and length of days” (Deut. 30), He, and not you or society, sets the bar. His standard is His Ten Commandments, and Jesus is their interpreter.

“You have heard that it was said,” Jesus says as He begins His explanation of them. The Lord knows what is said about His commandments and how people – and even churches! – often weaken them and lower their bar as the standard for behavior.

Ø  As far as adultery, society says, “Hey, you can look but don’t touch! – unless you realize it’s true love. Then it’s honest and pure and good.” Jesus says that even looking at another with sexual desire is committing adultery in your heart. Surely this includes sexually focused magazines and internet websites and movies, etc.! This is so serious, He says, that if it would keep you from sinning it would be better to tear out your eye than to look. “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”

Ø  And when it comes to divorce, well, if you’re going to get divorced, just make sure you do it right! In Jesus’ religious society the Rabbis were saying this; in our much less religious society, in which divorce is commonplace, almost everyone says this, even many churches. Have an amicable divorce and remain friends; then it’s ok! No! Jesus thunders. To divorce is to commit adultery.

By the way, it may sound like Jesus is putting the blame on the woman when He says, “Everyone who divorces his wife… makes her commit adultery.” Remember, He is speaking to what the people had heard their religious leaders say, and they pretty much gave all the rights to the husband. Jesus was pointing out that they were leading both women and men into sin. He makes her commit adultery,” Jesus says to the men, and “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Ultimately He teaches that we are to regard marriage as a life-long union, one that reflects His relationship with us. As He bears with us sinners and deals with us with mercy, so we are to do with one another. In your marriage, then, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works” – your resolving of your disagreements and your forgiving each other – “and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

What God says in His commandments and expects of us is hard. It is hard to do because God not only requires your actions to be right; your heart must also be right. To not touch another sexually but to look with lustful thoughts is to be guilty of adultery! Be honest: you do this! In fact, sinful thoughts come into our heads on their own. They just pop up; or, you see or hear something, and your mind is off and running! Who can stop this? But, you must! “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.” Ignore or tolerate your sin, even if it is only in your mind and is not acted upon, and you will end up in hell! It is hard to hear Jesus say this.

Tell me: what do you do with a garden that is producing weeds instead of flowers or vegetables? Do you pour gasoline on it and destroy it? No, that’s not what you want. You do the hard work of pulling out the weeds and putting in fertilizer. What do you do when your house has leaky pipes or an electrical problem? Do you burn it down? Do you move? Of course not! You find the problem and fix it. It may cost you time and money, but it’s your house. You do what you need to do to improve it!

“You are God’s field, God’s building,” St. Paul says (1 Cor. 3). When God confronts you and even condemns you with His Law He does so because you are His. He cares for you and has committed Himself to you. He wants to weed out what is bad in you and bring forth good from you. He wants to diagnose and fix your leaky pipes and make of you a building that will be a blessing to others, providing protection and warmth and a place to enjoy life.

How serious is he about this? Your God has paid so much for you! Although He is beyond time and eternal, He became a person like you and entered into our time. Jesus grew and aged; His life was ordered by seasons and days, and also by God’s Commandments. He lived under them and gladly ordered His life according to them, for He knew them to be “life and good” (Deut. 30). Jesus loved the Lord our God, and He showed this by “walking in his ways and by keeping his commandments.” (Deut. 30) And yet, He also knew our burden of sin and the guilt and the fear of judgment it brings, for He chose to take your sins upon Himself and bear the responsibility for them. In His suffering under Pontius Pilate and His crucifixion He was cut off and thrown into hell for your sins. Jesus paid the penalty for them in your place, that you might be declared innocent! By doing so He tore out your weeds and removed and replaced your leaky pipes so that you might now be “God’s field, God’s building.” As you, like Jesus, now show your love for the Lord your God by learning and obeying His good commandments you show yourself to be a fruitful field and a useful building. God’s words are life and good, and they bring forth life and good from you.

Life and good; this is ultimately what God’s good commandments are all about. By them He teaches us to look outward – to Him for His forgiveness, help and blessing; and then to others in their need – and not to focus on ourselves. They reflect His good and loving and giving nature, and so serve as good guides for us in our lives.

With His bar, the standard of His Ten Commandments, and especially with their true explanation and their complete fulfillment by Jesus, God sets before you “life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days.” (Deut. 30) Through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.