“You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…” These sayings of Jesus, which are still part of the sermon on the mount, are very difficult to hear. You have to love his style, though. He begins with talking about murder, which I imagine most of his listeners scoffed at… I can see them whispering, “what’s he talking about, we aren’t criminals”. And then, he gets them. He tells them that being angry is enough to be judged by. He begins with an almost ridiculous scenario, and lowers the boom; you do not have to commit murder in order to be in violation of the law. If there’s any doubt that Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than wipe out the law, here it is; and not only that, but he is in fact taking the law further. It’s not just our actions but what is on our hearts and perhaps even on our lips that will cause us to be breakers of the law.
I’m about to get on a soap box, so don’t say you weren’t warned.
Words matter; what people hear us say or comment on or laugh at, can tell people what is really on our hearts. And when people say in response to being confronted, “oh I didn’t mean anything by it”, I call it nonsense. If you didn’t mean it then don’t say it.
When I was a kid, especially in middle school, I got called all kinds of names. My family was blue collar, and my mother was strange to say the least. It gave bullies all kinds of fodder. I toughed it out, and managed to survive it. The worst part was when girls who I thought were my friends joined in so that they could be popular with the bullies.
As a special needs mom, I am even more aware of the stuff that’s out there. I have seen people avoid us when we have been out and about; I have heard parents tell their children that Danny was being “bad” for having a melt down. I have heard people tell the short bus jokes. It does a person no good to tell me that they didn’t mean anything by it. Of course they meant something by it, or they wouldn’t have said it.
Any time we are engaging in language or thoughts that push another out into the margins, we all might want to examine why. Even if we don’t act on what we think or the jokes we tell, we are still violating the law that Jesus has laid down. Our thoughts and our words matter for they are what tell us what is on our heart and what is known to God. Jokes that marginalize women, those of other races or religion, anyone who is part of a marginalized group should not be tolerated by anyone who claims to follow Jesus; and if someone thinks listening to music that glorifies rape and domestic violence is harmless, I dare that person to ask the women in their lives what they think.
Beloved, you and I are called to a higher standard. We know that society SHOULD be called to the same standard, but we also know that greed, corruption, hunger for power… in a word, sin, makes that impossible. The standard you and I are called to is one that we are continuously working toward; Jesus simplified it for us so that we wouldn’t get too bogged down in the details – we are to love God and love our neighbors. In this world of instant communication we have no excuses to not know about the suffering of all of God’s people, everywhere, and especially God’s people whom we are apt to turn away from or ridicule in some way. I would also warn all of us that silence in these kinds of situations is just a way of being an accomplice. Confrontation is not comfortable, but it is part of our vocation as disciples to help bring kingdom life to everyone, especially the least of these. Our words and our thoughts matter; and I remind all of us that our children and young people see us and hear us when we tell jokes that ridicule another; they hear our not so veiled prejudices when we speak ill of another; they learn from us, and they deserve to be taught the kingdom values that we say we believe in.
Wherever this set of readings comes up, I always feel like I need to address the teachings on divorce. So many people, many of them women, have been hurt by churches who use these readings against them. Marriage between two people for the rest of their lives is the goal. It’s what we teach, it’s what we hope for. Jesus’ teaching here has some layers of meaning, and one of those layers actually was to protect women who were vulnerable and often victimized by the culture. A divorced woman who had no male relatives to take care of her was an outcast with very little means for protection. Jesus knew this and wanted to make sure that men were living up to their obligations to their wives. In today’s world, we know that divorce is common; it is also tragic. Some statistics say that between 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce, and as many as 60-70% of second marriages end in divorce. So many people, especially women have been coerced into staying in an abusive marriage by their churches. That is not what the covenant of marriage means. It does not mean staying together at all costs. I would be the first person to encourage someone to leave an abusive relationship. Obviously, divorce happens for other reasons. I don’t have much wisdom to impart here, except to say that marriage is hard, hard work, and I think many of us might enter into it without knowing just how hard it is. In those situations, I think God’s mercy carries us so that we might learn more about who God is, who we are, and how we might live the rest of our lives working towards healthy, life giving relationships. I don’t think anything is beyond God’s mercy and love.
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.