Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflections on Matthew 5 - End of the Series

During the season of Epiphany our Gospel lessons have all come from the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which is the opening portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  This famous, beautiful and difficult chapter begins with the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Matthew 5:1-9
While there is a temptation for us to interpret these as conditions – IF you are poor in spirit, meek, mourning, pure in heart, etc., THEN you will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven – it is important to see these introductory verses as laying out the foundation of the rest of the sermon.  You who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, pure in heart, desiring peace, and so on, you are blessed. You, who are rejected by the society and who stand outside the cultural standards (for society has little time for those who are poor in spirit or meek or pure in heart or even mournful) – you are blessed and are part of God’s Kingdom, which is come in Jesus.   And as a part of Kingdom of Heaven you are also the salt of the earth and the light of the world – through whom the world tastes and catches a glimpse of the Kingdom come into the midst of our world.
Jesus then moves on to relationship and community in verses 21 through 37.  It is not enough, Jesus tells us, to follow the rules.  That is not what community is about.  If you want to earn your way into the Kingdom through your adherence to the law then you will have to be pretty close to perfect.  The point of the law is that it provides a framework to show us how we are called to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors, and that includes treating others with honor and respect.  In his explanation to the 10 commandments, Luther sums up this portion of Jesus’ sermon in a very concise way.  Take for example Luther’s explanation to the 8th commandment – You shall not bear false witness:
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our
neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
We are called to take that extra step.  It is not enough to refrain from lying – but we are called to take the extra step of caring for and speaking well of and treating our neighbor – possibly our opponent – with honor and respect.
And in case we did not completely understand what Jesus is trying to teach us he concludes chapter 5 with words which really make what he is teaching crystal clear:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven… Matthew 5:44-45a
You who are blessed by God are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and God is calling you to reach out of yourselves to others in profound and deep ways’ this means taking the community dimension of the 10 commandments seriously.  In this way you are salt and light which illumines a world of tasteless darkness.

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