Some Difficult Teachings to Swallow
by Rev. Laurie Williams
Matthew 5, selected verses (Sermon on the Mount)
September 20, 2015
Some Difficult Teachings to Swallow
by Rev. Laurie Williams
Matthew 5, selected verses (Sermon on the Mount)
September 20, 2015
Rev. Laurie: Jesus was an amazing man, as I imagine you know. One of his names was “teacher” and that is one of the many names for Jesus that draws me in the most. I think Jesus is an incredibly insightful, caring and challenging teacher.
Rev. Rodger: I agree! He makes me think and pushes me to be a better disciple, every day. Many of his teachings are not easy for us to follow in our society that often holds such different values and cares than disciples of Christ are to hold.
Laurie: Jesus teachings are challenging, I definitely agree. That is one reason I think him to be such an amazing teacher. Did you know that of the 90 times Jesus is addressed directly in the gospels, 60 were as “teacher”? Some other of the remaining ways were Lord, Savior, and Master.
Rodger: From the Gospel of John, Jesus himself used that name when he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am.” When the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”
Laurie: Jesus taught one on one, and his group of 12 disciples and those who followed him regularly, and religious authorities, and crowds. He never taught in a classroom or had an educational degree for his teaching. Jesus taught in someone’s home, in the temple, on a hillside, or from a boat on the water. People flocked to hear him speak.
Rodger: The Sermon on the Mount is one of his best known teachings as he often teaches wisdom-style sayings, says lines that would be good on a bumper sticker, and speaks in metaphors that people can relate to, especially the people of his time.
Laurie: “Of his time” is correct. At times we find the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) difficult to understand for all the metaphors, analogies and parables Jesus tells. He was speaking to a people in a particular time and place.
Rodger: That is why it is important that we learn together and with study helps such as commentaries and Bible dictionaries. Together we learn the interpretation from us, the co-pastors of this congregation, from our teachers in Sunday school and from each other in Sunday school, Bible Study, and other special Christian educational experiences.
Laurie: We can learn the teachings of Jesus, even those that are difficult to swallow and are demanding of us and how we live our lives. You mentioned the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 and 6. The Jesus lessons we will learn today are all from chapter 5.
Rodger: I imagine everyone is familiar with the Beatitudes at the start of the chapter- the “happy are” or “blessed are those who are,” for example, peacemakers, for they will be called children of God, and “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” The Beatitudes really challenge our way of thinking and being in today’s world. We have studied those ‘blessings’ in Sunday School and Bible Study.
Laurie: This morning we are going to the passages, in chapter 5 that come after the Beatitudes. Starting with verse 13, we read that we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How can we be the salt of the earth, you may ask? This metaphor explains that Jesus thought of and wanted his disciples to have the “distinct capacity to elicit goodness on the earth”, to be the flavor of and good witnesses for Jesus’ teachings and God’s Word out in the world.
Rodger: We bring the words of the Bible to life by giving it meaning so that others will hopefully see the importance of Jesus’ instruction for ones’ life. We are also to go beyond what is required of most people as we flavor the lives of the dispossessed, the poor, the fearful and the outcast. We are to live what the Beatitudes require of us such as “caring for those who suffer loss, seeking to do justice, showing mercy, having integrity, being peacemakers, and courageously standing for what they believe.”
Laurie: Jesus goes on to use an analogy for us of light. The New Testament speaks of Jesus as the light of the world and Jesus wants us to be that light too- his hands and feet in the world.
Rodger: Light enables us to see what is around us. It illuminates what we read, cook, garden, watch, work on and so much more. Without light, we would always be in the dark. The analogies of light and dark for that which is good (light) and that which is distressing or awful (dark) are to be applied to our lives We live as a people of the flavor of deep faith who take Jesus’ light into a world that is far too often hurting, lonely, angry, afraid, cruel, hate-filled and greedy.
Laurie: As Jesus shines his light of truth, mercy, kindness, compassion, gentleness, joy and love on us, we are to shine all those things in the world too, by the things we do, say and act on. We wouldn’t hide the lamp we read by under a box or behind all the furniture on the floor! No, we leave our lamps where they can shine the best, most effective light. We aren’t to hide the light Jesus has given us to care for the world, either.
Rodger: Light and salt are images we can wrap our minds around and, at the same time, they are admittedly difficult for us to be at all times. Still, we are to strive for those very ideals because Jesus encourages us to endeavor to be perfect as God is perfect.
Laurie: Yes, well, we know we can’t be perfect but with the Holy Spirit’s strength, courage and guidance we can reach for the stars, so to speak, and be more and more like God each day.
Rodger: Jesus’ next teachings in the passage I read for this morning from Matthew, talks about anger. We live in a world that seems angry all the time. Too many Christians walk around angry so much of the time. Oh sure, we can feel indignant about and be opposed to some things but we aren’t to be so angry that we hate or despise. It doesn’t show the good flavor of salt and the brilliant light of the world.
Laurie: Jesus, especially, wants Christians not to be angry with one another. If we are angry, we are to go to the person or people we are angry with and talk to them, in Christian love, understanding, and care, about the anger and how it can be resolved. He didn’t want his followers to take each other to court. He wanted them to work out their differences with one another.
Rodger: It is so very easy for us to get angry today when we hear of Christians being persecuted various places around the world, when we read of the atrocities of terrorists, when someone says something we very much disagree with, when a family member or friend is ill-spoken of by another, and that list can go on and on.
Laurie: That is so very true. However, it may be helpful for us to remember that holy anger and indignation is frequently quite different from human anger which is often prompted by fear or hatred, cynicism or self-absorption, or ‘why isn’t everyone like me’- type attitudes. Jesus talked with those he disagreed with and sometimes he wasn’t all that kind to them but often it was because his mission on this earth was first and foremost to his people, the Jews, and so many didn’t want to follow his teachings. It made him unhappy and probably a little desperate to get his message across, in the limited time he had for his ministry. He keenly felt the urgency.
Rodger: I think we can probably understand that. Sometimes when I care for someone and they are doing something that would harm them, I may get angry with them. That is because I love them. Jesus loved his people and wanted the best for them. Eventually, that same love spread to the Gentiles, the non-Jews too. I agree, those times when our anger is called for it ought to be holy and just anger that is backed by love and compassion, and an anger that seeks to be reconciled.
Laurie: Jesus recognizes that people get angry and, rather than prohibiting it, he teaches that it can be transformed by living as a peacemaker, as someone who shows mercy, and as someone who goes the extra mile. Speaking of extra mile, Jesus continues his challenging teachings by throwing up in the air and scattering to the four winds the old thought of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Take someone’s eye out if they take yours out, that saying means. Now… here in chapter 5, verse 39, he proclaims,
“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. And, if someone tells you to carry something for them, carry that something for them an extra mile.” Ouch! That all sounds rather painful!
Rodger: All through these teaching Jesus is trying to disallow vengeance. We aren’t to seek vengeance. No, if someone slaps you in anger, don’t retaliate and certainly not in kind. That is a very challenging concept for us. We human beings tend to want to “get back” at someone who has wronged us. I worry about TV shows that teach children it’s OK to seek out revenge. That isn’t Jesus’ way.
Laurie: No, it definitely isn’t. In the long run, it isn’t helpful either. It doesn’t resolve anything. The anger is still crops up on occasion. The situation is still there. Here again, as in the beatitudes, Jesus wants us to be the better person and to be the peacemaker or the one who forgives the other. This doesn’t mean we have to be a doormat people wipe their feet on but it does mean that we are to be the more decent and upright person in order to try and rectify the situation, if at all possible.
Rodger: Jesus wants us to be the better person in many of his teachings. Another teaching in chapter 5 of Matthew is about swearing, swearing oaths, that is. Instead of saying, “I swear on my head” that I am right, we are simply to be lovingly, gently, kindly honest and direct. Say what you mean so that your “yes” is a “yes” and your “no” is a “no”. The aim that is critical in this teaching is truthfulness. If we are living the way Jesus wants us to, it isn’t necessary for us to make an oath or swear on something. Instead, be truthful at all times.
Laurie: It isn’t always easy to be truthful, is it? It may get us in a great deal of trouble or make us look stupid but, I suppose that also means we ought to be careful of the situations we get ourselves into that may lead us to dishonesty, and diligently avoid those situations, where we’re at all able to do so.
Rodger: The final teaching of Jesus in our scripture passages for this morning is about hatred. It is a teaching Laurie and I have mentioned in worship several times. Jesus goes beyond the love commandment to love those who love you, as was the common ancient Jewish practice, and challenges his followers to love even their enemies and, also, to pray for them.
Laurie: That is probably one of the most difficult teachings in this whole bunch! Actually, Jesus is teaching about exhibiting a righteousness (not to be confused with self- righteousness) that exceeds even that of religious leadership. It seems like an unfair burden on your “average” person. Yet, as we remember the context of Jesus speaking as the Child of God, part human and part divine, and of the community of followers he is trying to encourage to a higher standard, a standard that loves first of all, he continues to lead us away from vengeance and hatred and toward being peacemakers and children of God.
Rodger: Even so, to many people this demand to love and pray for enemies seems unreasonable. It isn’t a natural thing to do. Even as we think that, we need to remember that Jesus’ teachings aren’t meant to be reasonable or expedient. Instead, they reflect the character of God and we are to strive for that. The gifts of God are indiscriminate and Jesus wants us to love the same way. Loving enemies isn’t all that practical but it witnesses to God’s unconditional love expressed so beautifully in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Laurie: Certainly, we will find some of Jesus’ teachings to be very difficult to swallow and follow. Jesus doesn’t seek to make us very comfortable in our lives. By doing so, he pushes us to be better people than our society teaches us to be. So, each day we strive to be peacemakers, show mercy, love unconditionally, be salt and light to a dark world, walk that extra mile, and seek to reconcile with one another. The righteousness of God is fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ and, therefore, leads us into righteous, good, honest, honorable and respectable, living too. Alleluia!