23rd February 2020
By the Revd Robert Jordan M.A.
Isaiah 49:8-16a; Matthew 5:38-48
Have we heard?
Jesus begins by saying: "You have heard", and then adds "But I say...". From what was to what is. From law to grace - It is one amazing big step. And yet...and yet, we look at today's Gospel reading and deep down we feel like saying 'Are you sure, Jesus? Are you sure?' And Jesus will answer 'Yes, I'm sure'. You have to leave the past behind and begin the journey forward - it's a journey on the Kingdom road, that goes from "you have heard" to "I tell you", a journey where we know what was, but now not look to the past for answers, but to the present that is Jesus, who is the embodiment of God's love.
The section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus seems to push things such as turning the other cheek, give up on revenge, give more than is required of you in a lawsuit, go the extra mile, lend without limitations, pray for persecutors, love the enemy. What does all that mean? Is it something to apply literally? And it ends with the call to be perfect like the heavenly Father- but who of us is perfect? Is all this the basis to being a follower of Jesus? Well it clearly needs us to consider what is involved. When Jesus says "You have heard" and then extends this to "but I say unto you", has suddenly put Jesus in the centre, and not the law. So Jesus becomes the model.
But what about all those people we know have gone through so much - those tattooed in concentration camps, those raped time and time again as trophies of war, those who have suffered discrimination because of their sexual orientation, the women who for generations have received less pay than men for the same job, those who have been tortured by dictators, or more recently those of the Windrush Generation that have been deported... how are we expecting them to respond? Some have responded in the light of this reading, others haven't. Are we going to judge them?
And when we read the prophet, we discover the call of God and it reminds us that even in the darkness of difficulties, that situation is not the end of life. Roads will open up, hungry will be fed, prisoners will be liberated, the dispersed will meet again, the sad will sing for joy. The covenant will be renewed and God will have us inscribed on the palm of his hands - that close, that intimate. The need to turn what seems as a full stop, into a semi-colon, and so keep going.
Probably the best way forward is to recognize our humanity and with that our limitations; and then to bear in mind that Jesus takes on for us that which seems the impossible task, I don't believe Jesus was placing the burden of failure on our shoulders. He is trying to show us that the values of the Kingdom were different, and inviting all to try to grasp the change involved in the Kingdom. It's the tension between our human nature and that of being children of the Kingdom. Again the words of the prophet.
I really don't believe Jesus is asking us to accept these wounds, but rather recognize that the teaching involved is one of noncooperation with harm in any and all of its manifestations, while at the same time working to discontinue these forms of violence and oppression. To love as we learn in Jesus in a similar way God loves and in that love affirms a new world.
Let me close with a poem I translated this week, written by a friend in Argentina: Love is no small matter, it seems to sum all this up quite neatly.