Here we are, saying “Enough already!” as snow mounts, ice turns roads into skating rinks for vehicles that turn into bumper cars, and when warming weather promises to stay around for more than a few days, there could be flooding! And more snow! “Enough already!”
And added to the weather there are winter Sunday Gospel readings that, rather than cheering us up, perplex some listeners and sound repulsive to others to the point of shouting when hearing yet another reading,
In a series of teaching moments in Jesus’ outdoor classroom, He follows a recitation of the Ten Commandments with every day, practical applications which seem to turn His classroom into a courtroom where we hear one verdict after another,to the point that we are ready to say of the Gospel as we say of the weather,
I’ll admit that’s the way I felt last Sunday as I thought how sensitive, fragile, sin-scarred souls might react to Jesus’ indictment of individuals who, other than because of abuse and unfaithfulness, break the vows of marriage, as Jesus implied, to “put away,” to dispose of one spouse for another.
Every time I hear those words, I cringe, thinking of all the divorced people in our own families, and the church family, and perhaps you, who cannot come to any other conclusion than that of feeling hopelessly condemned to live with the shame of that indictment which King David heard as he repeatedly broke the vows of marriage, even with a contrived murder, yet, he felt he could raise his confessional prayer, (Ps.51)
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”
It was the remembrance of that love which moved David to ask, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
When listening to the ongoing readings that bring us into Jesus’ classroom lessons on the Ten Commandments, “Where,” we might ask, “is the redeeming assurance of God’s ‘steadfast love’”?
It all comes together in today’s reading:
“You have heard that it was said,
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
It’s Jesus’ teaching technique of using an extreme statement to startle His listeners into the consequences of tit-for-tat actions, at every level of life, from individual to family to nation to world..
Steve Molin in his “He Hit Me First!” recalls a familiar scene:
“Two fourth-graders get into it during recess; something about ‘he did this, so I did that’ and it kind of goes south from there. When they get back to class, Billy trips Joey. After lunch, Joey breaks Billy’s pencil on purpose. When nobody is looking, Billy writes on Joey’s desk, and later, Joey steals Billy’s folder. After school, Billy and his friends face Joey and his friends, and they call each other names. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody else gets hurt worse. ..there is no telling when or if these conflicts will ever end.”
Steve Molin goes on to say, “remove the names “Billy” and “Joey” and insert the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and the story is much the same. Or we could insert the names of two rival high schools, or two rival companies, or ‘The Hatfields’ and ‘The McCoys.”’Or Republicans and Democrats, or ‘pro-life’ and pro-choice,’ or Israel and Palestine,” (or Kiev and the Kremlin,) “or America and almost any Arab nation you care to name.”
Apply the Old Testament rule for warfare and courtroom verdicts:
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
and know the eventual consequences will be as Mahatma Gandhi said,
“Soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.”
The Gospel lessons read to us Sunday after Sunday are filled with harsh words meant to wake up anyone who listens to Jesus’ intention to turn away from a tit-for-tat life when hearing His
‘But I say to you,
Do not resist an evildoer.
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn the other also.
Another extremely drastic statement intended to motivate Jesus’ followers to see self and others through the eyes and heart of Jesus and His reflection of God’s “steadfast love,” and respond to an exhilarating and yet seemingly impossible commitment that makes Mark Twain’s words so quotable:
"I have no problem with those parts of the Bible I don't understand. It's those parts of the Bible I do understand that gives me fits."
The exhilarating and yet seemingly impossible commitment which the Apostle Paul commended to Christians in Corinth with his
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? You belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
to which Jesus adds His grading curve in the closing line in His lesson:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
John Brokhoff in his book, “Old Truths for New Times” (CSS Publishing Company) relates the story of a prince who was born physically deformed.
“He was known as the hunchback prince. His physical posture troubled him, because he knew a prince should stand tall and straight. One day he commissioned a sculptor to make a statue of him, not as he was but as he wanted to be. When the statue was completed, the prince had it placed in his private garden,” where every day, “he would stand before his statue and try to pull back his shoulders and stand tall. After some years, his physique matched the statue!”
The author’s conclusion to the story is:
“It is obvious, is it not, that the principle involved in this story is that what we admire, adore, greatly respect, and worship, we eventually become.”
The intention in Jesus’ Gospel lessons and Paul’s question,
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
The “or” to a tit-for-tat life that will eventually render all of us “blind and toothless.”
The “or,” and so, in Paul’s words, “we press on to this high calling in Jesus Christ,”
to which we are pulled, not through our efforts, but through God’s steadfast love made visible in Jesus Christ. AMEN.