Do You Have the Courage to Take the Heat? (Commentary on Matthew 5:21-26)

These last few months have been difficult to grasp as they have flown by. This nation and this world have been turned upside down, flipped, and shaken. And through it all, Donald Trump is still the President, the division in the nation has not lessened, and there seems to be a rumbling underneath the surface of life that has everyone on the edge of their seat in anticipation of what will come next (good, bad, or tragic).

As I have been looking around and entering into conversation with different people from different sides, I have had incredible and terrifying conversations with people with varying political ideologies. But, this does not shock me. I am not shocked by my Facebook feed blowing up with political arguments. I am not shocked by the name calling and mud-slinging. I am not shocked by the division of this country and of this world.

What I am surprised by is the shocked comments and expressions that Lutheran pastors and seminarians around the US are giving when they write a political rant on their Facebook and they get lambasted for it. Instead of converting all of their Facebook friends to the same political stance, they are receiving harsh criticisms, debates, name calling, and mud-slinging with a side of, “Don’t shove your political ideologies down my throat, Pastor.”

Who told us that being a pastor was going to be easy? Who told us that people listened to the prophets of Israel? Because if you have heard those things, then I need to tell you, they are not true. Being a pastor is hard. Being a prophet is a death sentence (or at least a path to getting fired). There are plenty of Bible verses that are used to explain this, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” (Luke 4:24). But, I believe it is this past week’s Gospel that is a Word our Pastors need to hear and understand in this time and place.

Jesus says, “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire,” (Matthew 5:22).

There are many commentators and critics of the Gospel of Matthew that struggle because so much of this section (The Sermon on the Mount) comes across as law and as intensification of the law that leads us to feel judged or enact judgement. But, these words (5:22) of Jesus are not a law or intensification, but a warning. A warning of the consequences of confronting those who disagree with you.

If you act in anger, for good or bad reasons, you will be liable to judgement. If you insult a brother or sister (or Pharisee) for good or bad reasons, you will be tried before the council (the Sanhedrin). If you call someone a “fool” or “idiot”, you will be liable to the fires of hell.

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is teaching and preaching to towns and cities about who God is and how community and love of neighbor is so important. But, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes cannot hear his words because all they see is Jesus breaking rules and regulations of the Jewish law. The Religious leaders are more concerned about the rules of Israel than about the people of Israel.

And so, In Matthew 23:17, Jesus calls the Pharisees and Scribes “blind fools.” And in a few chapters Jesus is being tried in front of the Sanhedrin. And within a few verses, this person who warned us about using these words is sentenced to die.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the author is speaking to a Jewish audience (probably in a land of Gentiles) and Jesus, a Rabbi, preaches this Sermon that is trying to calm their worries and tell them that the Law and Prophets are still very much important: “I do not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

But, when you look at this text then, Jesus is using this proverb on anger in order to tell a community to make peace when peace can be made; to reconcile differences when they can be reconciled; to restore relationships when they can be restored. But, sometimes, peace and truth cannot be heard by those that are causing the greatest harm and are using words of God to keep people out of the community, to enable corruption, to oppress those who are not in positions of privilege and power.

And so, 18 chapters later, Jesus realizes that he must speak the truth because the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, have all lost their ability to listen and see, and feel with their heart, and he calls them fools. Fools who cannot see the harm that they are doing and the pain that they are causing. Fools that cannot see their incredible misinterpretation of the love that God has for all people. Fools that are blind, deaf, and hardened of heart. And Jesus calls them fools, knowing that in saying this as a prophet and priest, he will be tried unfairly, and will be killed for speaking the truth.

In times of anger, can we make peace when peace can be made? Can we set aside our anger and our ego in order to reconcile with those we disagree with?

In times of conflict, do we have the courage to speak the truth and to call out those that cause harm in the name of God? And if we speak out, then have the courage to stand before those that will yell and call us names and hate us for the words that we have spoken?

And do we have the patience to recognize the difference?

As people of the church, our conversations, lesson plans, and sermons are going to have to be even more intentional in trying to reach each other and break through each other’s defenses. One prophetic sermon (or Facebook post) will not convert everyone to our understanding of the Gospel but more than one may send us packing.

Do we have the courage to take the heat?

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