Blogging Towards Sunday, February 13, 2011
"If each of us could remember that we are all created in the image of God, then we would naturally want to love more."
- Dorothy Day
"How can religion cause so many wounds.... and yet be a balm of healing?"
- Carol Howard-Merritt
What does it mean to follow Jesus? That's the larger context of this difficult passage which contains 3 distinct yet related sayings. Jesus is teaching in the way of the rabbis: "you've heard it said.... or the Torah says this....." then adding a twist, his interpretation, "but I say to you..." Each of the sayings starts with that rabbinical twist: verses 21, 27 & 31. Jesus is talking about relationships. He's talking in the larger context of the Beatitudes [Matthew 5:1-12]: a new worldview, a view of a new world to which we're invited to works towards and live in. It subverts our expectations, turns our systems upside down, liberates our deepest hopes and dreams in a world of justice, peace and wholeness.
And yet we often make this triade of 3 sayings into a condemnation of those who judge, those who are adulterers and those who are divorced. It's definitely easier to point our finger towards someone else, identifying them as the problem, the cause of division, or the one who creates trouble. And yet I don't think Jesus is talking about that. That's just too easy. I think that such a reading is actually un-Jesus doing the exact opposite of what he is saying.
In Matthew 5:20 - just before our part of the long teaching begins - Jesus says: "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." He's not talking crazy, but rather hyperbole. The Pharisees were the ones that lived lives aimed entirely at moral perfection in order to please God. He says they fail and miss the point, not that they're imperfect in their morality and law-keeping. So it's impossible to exceeds their righteousness in observing the law. I hear him saying it's more about following the direction of the law, where it directs us, the life to which it points us together. It's a reminder that none of us are perfect. That we all fall short. That we all are human: frail, jealous, flighty, fearful, needy. Rules and regulations can't ever make us love more or trust each other with more integrity. Relationships - healthy, functional, freeing, empowering, life-giving, faith-affirming, reflective of God's nature - are the essence and building blocks of life.
I'm struck by the two quotes at the beginning of this post. I heard them both this week. I think they're saying what Jesus is saying in this smaller passage in the larger context of the Beatitudes and Teaching on the Mount. "You have heard it said that it's all about moral perfection, but I tell you that it's all about faithfulness." It's not about pointing the finger at others. Nor about pointing our finger at ourselves. It's about pointing us towards something else - someone else - who invites us to a new way of living for God, being with each other, and accepting ourselves.