Leviticus 19, 1-2,17-18 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 3, 16-23 + Matthew 5, 38-48
Saint Ann Parish, Fairview, OK + Saint Anthony Parish, Okeene, OK + Saint Thomas Parish, Seiling, OK
One more Sunday with the Sermon on the Mount, and then Lent begins. We have been reading this Sermon since the beginning of February! That is a long sermon, so stop looking at your watches. No wonder the crowd got hungry and he had to feed them! But then, there wasn’t much else to do in those days without cable and satellite TV! Besides, what he saying to them was a challenge to change the way they thought and imagined God to be, and as a result, it might mean changing the way they lived. It got their attention.
What should become clear by this time is that he is telling us something about God and how God behaves more than he is telling us about what we should do. This is revelation. It is not a new system of ethics or morality. This is about God not us. What Jesus is hoping is that once we understand God as he does, we will then understand ourselves in a different way that will affect how we behave and what we do.
That suggestion about turning the other cheek or giving your entire house to a robber who takes your TV is a recipe for social chaos. Jesus is not telling us how build up a good society here on earth. An eye for an eye is simply proposing that there be a limit to what you do with someone who offends you. If someone steals your car, you don’t burn down their house with their wife and family inside. There are limits to be set so that retribution or “getting even” does not escalate into chaos. With that, he moves to heart of the matter. He begins to talk about, tells us about, and reveal something very important about God so that his mission among us might be fulfilled.
Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God. He did not come to establish a smooth running and efficient human society. He came to form a body that lives in him and shares his relationship with the Father, not shape a civil society. His purpose was to divinize the human race: incarnation! Jesus wanted and came to draw people into his relationship with the Father. So this Sermon on the Mount is theology. It is not morality. The life of Jesus among us was an experience of God in human flesh and time. We he forgave people driving nails into his hand and feet, we were experiencing something Divine. What mere human could do such a thing? What we see and hear in Jesus is God. The challenge and invitation of this Sermon is for us to come through Jesus Christ into the Divine Life, and he begins to talk about Divine Life when he describes how the Father lets the sun shine on the bad and the good; the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He speaks about how God loves not just those who love God, but loves everything and everyone because that is what God is. It is God’s nature. It is God’s being. Love is not a reward that is given or withheld. If that were the case, God would not be God. Love is all God knows how to do or how to be. We call that “grace.” It is freely given not deserved, won or lost, and it makes us graceful and grateful which is why we are here this morning not because we have been good or bad, but because we are loved and living in a relationship with God that will be experienced in communion.
God is not like us! The mission of Jesus Christ was to awaken in us a desire to be like God. Yet we must be careful with this, because way too often we want to make God be like us rather than the other way around. So, we think that God punishes to justify that we punish. We think that God gets angry, because we get angry. We think that God gives and withholds love because we do; but Jesus will not allow us to forget that Love comes first. We do not earn it. We cannot destroy it or lose it. We do not make God love us or try to change God by our behavior. If that were so, we could change God. So, does God punish? I think the answer is yes, but the punishment is not angry resentment. It is what we call “tough love”. I think God allows us to experience the result or the consequences of our sins for one reason – to turn us back to God himself. Being miserable because we have done wrong makes us stop doing wrong and repent placing ourselves back in the right relationship with Love. Going a step further some might then wonder if there is really a “hell” since God is Love. I think there is, and I think it is the consequence of choosing to refuse love and all that love demands in terms of mercy, forgiveness, patience, understanding, and repentance. Does God love those who make those choices? Of course. God loved them first, but they refused, and love does not force, coerce, or demand. Look at the love in your own lives. It is always freely given and freely received or it is not real love.
When the prophet in the Book of Leviticus says: “Be holy”, and Jesus says in this Sermon, “be perfect” the Word of God proposes that we become divine for only God is holy and only God is perfect. This holiness and this perfection becomes us more and more as we grow to know and understand God and draw closer to God through his Son who has shown us in this life something of a Father who calls us all, heals us all, and loves us all, the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. There are no exceptions proposed here. Can we love our enemies? Why not? We made them, we ought to be able to unmake them. The first movement toward loving enemies is to pray for them – to pray that we might begin to love them. Can we think for a moment that God would refuse us if we asked to have a measure of God’s grace in order to Love as God loves? Impossible!
It seems to me that of all people you, here in western Oklahoma, would understand what happens when you put an iron in a fire. The longer it is there and the closer it is to the flame, the hotter it becomes with that fire to the point that it becomes on fire and can spread that fire. Jesus Christ would put us into the fire of God’s love so that we become that fire itself. Love is a participation in the Life of God just like that iron participates in the heat of the fire. This is the mission and the work of Jesus Christ to lead us through him, with him, and in him into the very life of God. This is what makes us perfected, because it restores us to what God has created and wills us to be.