In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus clarifies aspects of the law. Bringing them into sharper focus and providing context to what God intended, but which humanity misinterpreted. In doing so Jesus talks about murder, adultery, divorce and oaths. However, Jesus does not simply stop with a straightforward command as we would find in the Ten Commandments. Instead, Jesus probes deeper and helps us to understand the reason for the commandment in the first place. 

Text: Matthew 5: 21-37

Choose Life

Choose life.
Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares.
Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently
And choose watching history repeat itself …
Choose the ones you love.
Choose your future.
Choose life.

This is an excerpt from the opening monologue from the movie Trainspotting 2. It echoes the lines found in the original film from the 90s. While I have not seen the newest film the original follows a group of four friends through the depths of depravity to a redemption of sorts.

The theme of redemption is not unique to this movie. I would argue that many films, television shows, and novels have themes of redemption woven into them. However, I was preparing for this morning it was the particular notion of ‘Choosing life’ which jumped out at me.

It is the theme which lies below the surface of our gospel lesson from Matthew this morning. We are still dealing with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching his disciples and the crowd still waits for them down the hill. We are reminded of the words Jesus spoke in our passage last week, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

This reminder informs us that we are still dealing with the law, with God’s laws. With this reminder in place Jesus addresses: murder, adultery, divorce and oaths. And after hearing it you might be thinking that Jesus has just set a very high bar for us. It is tough stuff.

You haven’t killed anyone recently, but when through your anger you told someone you wish they were dead. Well in that moment you crossed the line as far as God is concerned.

You’ve been faithful to your spouse. Good. But when you looked at a co-worker or neighbour lustfully. Well in that moment you crossed the line as far as God is concerned.

You haven’t lied or given false testimony in God’s name. Good. But when you lied about something and said “I swear by my children it’s not true.” Well in that moment your crossed the line, because your children are God’s children and they bear his image.

This passage today is hard. We read this passage and we might honestly think that we are all in trouble. Because each of us in some way has thought or said one of these at some point in our lives. Each of us have done it. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s figure out what Jesus is trying to tell us. We already know we are sinners, that’s part of why Jesus came. But what is the message that is hidden beneath these words?

Choose life.

Jesus did not come to say ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ Jesus came to fulfill the law and he does so by reinterpreting it for new times and places. When we consider this passage from Matthew and the corresponding commandments from the Old Testament the one aspect, the one character that we neglect to think about as we debate these issues is God.

Professor Karoline Lewis asks the following question in connection with this passage, “When was the last time you connected what you said and what you did with who God is for you? Our actions and our words reveal our theology.” That is our words and actions reveal what we think about and what we understand about God and how we apply that to our daily living.

This passage is about four things: God, ourselves, our neighbours and how we connect these things together. This passage from Matthew is about choosing life. God’s laws are meant to encourage human flourishing. God’s laws are life giving.

What Jesus is telling us is that life is threatened when anger and insults reign. Life is threatened when women are objectified, merely there for fulfilling desire. Jesus insists that women are not cultures for the taking, to be reduced or discarded based on patriarchal need or their capacity to bear children. Life is threatened when you do not take seriously the oaths you make.

What Jesus is telling us is interpreting the law, which Jesus came to fulfill, is not as simple as you think it is. It is not black and white, it is not a binary do or do not. However, if your understanding, if your interpretation of the law leads to death – silencing voices, reducing the person-hood of another, disrespecting entire categories of people, labeling people – then you need to stop and think, long and heard about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

In today’s world, with our political climate we see all of these things happening. We see it and we know it is wrong, but we need to be very careful in how we respond. It is far to easy to respond in a manner which leads to death. As disciples of Jesus we are called to actions which are life giving. This does not mean we cannot be critical; it does not mean we cannot call out injustice. But how we do it matters.

In speaking truth to power we must be accountable for our words. A poem I discovered this week speaks to this issue, Clothesline by Marilyn Maciel.

i
you
us
them
those people
wouldn’t it be lovely
if one could
live
in a constant state
of we?
some of the most
commonplace
words
can be some of the biggest
dividers
they
what if there was
no they?
what if there
was only
us?
if words could be seen
as they floated out
of our mouths
would we feel no
shame
as they passed beyond
our lips?
if we were to string
our words
on a communal clothesline
would we feel proud
as our thoughts
flapped in the
breeze?

“clothesline,” poem by Marilyn Maciel. Published in Patti Digh, “Life Is a Verb: 37 Days To Wake Up, Be Mindful, And Live Intentionally.” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 42

We live in challenging times. I believe there is a proverb that goes, May you live in interesting times. Sometimes, I’m not so sure. But these are the times God has placed us in. We are called to preach, to teach and to live the truth of the Gospel. We are called to be prophetic, but we cannot do that without being pastoral and developing trust in our relationships.

In all things, choose life. Speak the truth of God into the kaleidoscope which is your life. Bear witness to the love of God, through kindness and love. Choose life. Amen.