Resenting Jesus’ Rules

Matthew 5:21-37 – The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, February 12, 2017

“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you . . .” (Matthew 5:23)

As a young adult, I once groused to my mother about Dad’s double standard on speeding. When my father was a passenger and noticed that I’d crept over the speed limit, he’d loudly clear his throat as a warning. That guttural noise was often followed with, “Have you looked at your speedometer?”

Okay, fine, Dad caught me speeding.

But what about those times he ignored the limits? Since infancy, I’d been an occupant in cars he steered. Dad often exceeded the posted limits!

Mom replied, “Your father’s a very law-abiding citizen . . . except when he doesn’t think the laws apply to him.”

Oh.

Limits. Laws. Rules.

Wasn’t Hector Barbossa’s quote in the original Pirates of the Caribbean about pirate codes equally funny and true: “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Har! Har! Har!

What about God’s commandments?

Aren’t those familiar 10 Commandments easy to learn, easy to understand, and (at least theoretically) easy to accomplish? Well, even simplicity has baggage. How are you doing with Sabbath, actually resting from work and worry on one day a week? I’m personally lousy with that. And, especially with my hospice experiences, honoring parents is anything but “easy.” As an irksome kid, you may rebel a bit from honoring a parent’s wishes, but you (mostly) know Mom and Dad are large and in charge. And yet as a sixty-year old “child,” with a dying eighty-something parent who wants you to make his or her end-of-life decisions, honoring those wishes can be breathtakingly complex.

Jesus never made any of the guidelines for an honest and humble faith very easy!

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

When serving small churches with permanently tight budgets, I hoped folks in the congregation wouldn’t follow Jesus’, er, code in a literal way. Enough church members have friends, or family members, or co-workers with “something against” them! Maybe a slight that was misinterpreted? Maybe an insult that was better left unsaid? Maybe an argument that led to accusations? What if all of them listened to Jesus’ admonition about making “things right” and hurried away from worship to heal a friendship without leaving their weekly offering?

Thanks, Jesus . . . for dropping a church’s budget into a pool of red ink!

Wasn’t Jesus more concerned with relationships than religion? I’ve said that before, and will probably, if only for my stubborn resistance to learning, keep repeating it. Jesus’ guidelines—rules, codes, and commandments—demanded and demand an unsettling and yet easy response.

Heal the relationship with your neighbor.

Don’t be as concerned with honoring God with your money as much as loving your neighbor with your mercy.

It gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective).

Matthew 5:23-24 invites me as a believer, as someone in relationship with God and neighbor, to consider those who might have “something” against me. I am not being asked to ponder the anger and judgments leveled against me, but to try to imagine where others think I might have hurt them.

Hey, I can’t read minds!

Okay, sometimes I’m a tad sarcastic or critical, but how could anyone take my words so seriously? I really didn’t mean to hurt others with what I said or didn’t say, with what I did or didn’t do. Just get over it!

No, Jesus said, you get over to them and seek . . . what?

Sometimes, you will seek forgiveness.

Sometimes, you will seek mutual understanding.

Sometimes, you will seek those who see the world differently than you, but who deserve to have their views respected.

Sometimes, if you seek and fail at reconciliation or communication, your efforts may be seeds of hope in a next attempt.

Jesus’ rules invited relationships. You can’t mend a relationship by sitting in worship. Let true “worship of God” continue by taking the time to try to heal a relationship. You can’t mend a relationship by selecting an appropriate emoji for your social media post. You need to be face to face with another. You can’t mend a relationship by waiting for the other person to act. Even when knowing you have been wronged or misunderstood or ignored—that it’s their fault—you must go to them.

We will resist.

If we are truly honest, we may even resent Jesus’ request. Why does it always have to be me seeking to heal a relationship!

Oh how I’d like to be like Dad: aren’t there some laws that don’t apply to me? Maybe. But those “rules” seeking to heal relationships apply to . . .

Everyone. Including me.

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4 Comments

  1. Larry,

    This reflection is so telling I had to read it twice. I even read it out loud to Vicky. I’ve got to stop reading your bits of wisdom, I’m just to busy with what I have on the table already. You come along with your Jesus quote and really mess up my day.

    Come on, you can’t seriously mean what you say, except you didn’t really say it, did you. Look my list is long and I haven’t looked at it recently. I’ll tell you what. I promise I’ll take it out and at least revisit the list. I can’t promise anything, what if I just took one person and offered reconciliation. Do you think that will earn me any points with the Creator? It seems to me that there is something wrong with that sentence, I’m to busy to figure it out right now.

    1. What . . . you even read it aloud to Vicky!? You might get me in trouble!

      Hey, John, thanks for your thoughts about this piece. And about your question regarding earning points with the Creator? I think I’ll happily avoiding answering!!

      Take care . . .

  2. “cold” bereavement calls. Standing in the place of (the place of, the place of, ad infinitum) the paraclete who stands in the place of, me and even you, my younger brother, holding out the broken ends of relationship offering healing to enraged grief Talk about big brass ones. Yeah I know I am crude, but a piece of work like this deserves a little prayerful irreverence.
    This just in: When it passed over the scoreboard in center field it was still rising…

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