The law is meant to be life-giving. Life-giving for you, and for your neighbour.
We don’t always think of law that way. Sometimes it’s like we’ve developed an allergic reaction to words like commandment and obedience that are sprinkled throughout today’s readings. We think of laws as restrictive, necessary perhaps, but more of a restraint than something positive. We associate the law with rules and regulations, with law courts and with our justice system. We hear politicians talk about the rule of law; then we see the RCMP ordered in to arrest people of the Wet’suwet’en nation.
But Jesus doesn’t want us to think of Torah, of God’s instructions and commandments, God’s law, using those images. He wants to open our imaginations. The sermon on the mount is all about firing up our imagination. Jesus wants to get back to the original intent, the original purpose of the law that has been there ever since Moses articulated it. From another mountain top many years ago, Moses had instructed the people in God’s law. And then Moses had said:
“I have set before you today life and death. Love the Lord your God, walk in God’s ways, observe God’s commandments. Choose life!”
The law is meant to be life-giving, for me and for my neighbour. Can you see it?
Imagine a world, imagine a community, in which no one is dismissed or disrespected. Where no one is insulted or called a fool. A world in which we treat each other with dignity and respect, honouring the image of God which is found in each one of us. What a world that would be.
Imagine a world in which our posture towards those with whom we disagree is reconciliation, not anger. A world where we are prepared to go the extra mile. Where we seek to listen and understand rather than convince and dominate.
Imagine a world in which we make friends with our accusers. A world in which we are prepared to lay down our arms, and not let our grievances get in the way.
Imagine a world in which women no longer have to fear men. A world in which patriarchy is no more. A world in which men don’t look at women as sexual objects. A world in which men stop trying to exercise power over women. A world in which women no longer have to endure catcalls, leering looks, degrading comments and sexual harassment and assault. A world in which people of all genders see the humanity in each other and honour each other as children of God, lifting each other up and not putting each other down.
Imagine a world in which those who choose to marry are able to do so as equals. A world in which one partner does not exercise power over the other. A world in which commitments are honoured, not casually set aside. A world in which every marriage is able to fulfill the hopes of those who marry, to be a relationship of love, intimacy, delight, and mutual support.
Imagine a world in which we can trust one another. Where we don’t have to build walls to protect ourselves. Where our yes means yes and our no means no. Where we can be vulnerable, open and transparent in our relationships. A world in which we are there for each other.
This is the world that Jesus wants us to imagine in today’s gospel. God’s law is intended to point us towards, to guide us forward into this world. The law is not intended merely as a restraint. When the law says “Thou shalt not murder”, the intent is not that we can become angry with someone, insult them, dismiss them, dehumanize them but then at the last moment restrain from killing them. When the law says “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, the intent is not that men can look at women as objects, degrade them, look at them with lust but then at the last moment refrain from sex. No, the intent of the law is not to restrain us as we walk down the wrong path. The intent is to get us onto a different path altogether. To walk in the ways of the Lord.
The law is meant to be life-giving, for me and for my neighbours. Which is why, when Jesus is asked to sum up the law and commandments, he puts the emphasis on love: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
This call to love is at the heart of the new world, the new community that we have been imagining, at the heart of this vision that Jesus is laying out before us and inviting us to enter.
Can you imagine what that new world would be like?
It would be a world in which those who are poor in spirit, the abused, the marginalized, the traumatized, would be lifted up.
It would be a world in which those who mourn would be comforted.
It would be a world in which those who are meek, those who are powerless or vulnerable, would never be dominated by those who are powerful.
It would be a world in which those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would see it every day in the way their neighbours treat each other.
It would be a world in which all would receive mercy, because all would be merciful.
It would be a world in which those who are pure in heart will see God, will see God’s image reflected in those around them and God’s love expressed in the way people love each other.
It would be a world in which peacemakers are celebrated.
It would be a world not of persecution, but of reconciliation.
This is the world that is on offer. This is Jesus’ vision of what it means to be fully human, living in community with one another and in communion with God. To love God, to walk in God’s ways, to observe God’s commandments. To love our neighbour as ourselves. To choose life.
So choose life.
Not life as mere biological existence. Not life as mere survival. No, much more than that.
Life as the fullest possible expression of what it means to be human and the fullest possible expression of human flourishing, becoming the people that God created us to be.
This is what Jesus wants us to imagine. This is how Jesus wants us to live.
It starts in community. In communities such as this one. We may not be able to change the whole world this morning. But we can transform this community, we can change our part of the world, we can begin to live out Jesus life-giving vision for the world here in this place, for at least one hour this morning.
And when we do so, when we experience the new life that’s on offer, we won’t stop when we leave this place. Because it’s too good not to continue. When we experience Jesus’ vision of what it means to be fully human, we’ll want to go on living that out in all of our communities. Sure, it might be hard sometimes, but it’s worth it, and it’s what we’re called to do. Because, remember:
You are the salt of the earth. Don’t stop being salty.
You are the light of the world. Let your light shine.
Homily Yr A Proper 6, Feb 16 2020, St. Albans
Readings: Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Ps 119.1-8; 1 Cor 3.1-19, Matthew 5.21-37
Image by Gael Varoquaux, Creative Commons