The Blue mountains Franciscan Church
Sermon preached by Br. Andrew from Maroubra on Sunday 19 February 2017
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany year A
Once more we follow Jesus through his explanation of the 10 commandments and also his calling us to fulfil the higher law. The law that he did not come to destroy but to fulfil, and we, in him, fulfil it with him.
This week we have both the fifth and sixth antithetical statements where Jesus takes something that was a given in the Old Testament and then counters it with something that is new and something that is higher. He says you have heard that it was said an eye and an eye and tooth for a tooth but I say to you do not resist an evil doer. So, when we go back to the act of a” life for a life”, not mentioned here – Jesus is telling not to resist an evil doer, not to do anything to injure him.
What we have here is the Lex Talionis code of justice. It was devised in Babylon by king Hammurabi, who is the best known and most celebrated of all Mesopotamian kings. He ruled the Babylonian Empire from 1792-50 B.C.E) . It was introduced for positive reasons. It was a deterrent for all of these things that are mentioned. A deterrent for people taking out revenge by poking out the eye of another person, of knocking out the tooth of another person, it was there to show you what would happen to you if you did such a thing. It was a deterrent. Not an invitation.
When it was adopted into Mosaic law ( powerpoint) it was a breakthrough because it gave standards for justice and retribution that everyone could follow. It was sort of like let the punishment fit the crime and to a major degree if really had nothing to do with poking out other people eyes.
Afterwards; when it was adopted as a religious code, the Pharisees used to decide upon a monetary forfeit for each of the crimes in question so that you would pay a certain amount of one for these crimes. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is it recorded that anyone had their eye poked out. A person was maimed if they made a false accusation against anyone in a court of law the punishment for this was to do unto them what would have been done unto the person if they had been found guilty. Considering the fact that they were truly innocent the perjurer would receive not the sentence, he would not have his eye poked out or his arm cut off, but would have been injured in some way, and in the scriptures there is only one reference to anyone ever being injured and that was Adoni-bezek who had his thumbs and his great toe of both feet cut off, because at some stage he himself had done the same thing to others and his response was that he had deserved it.( Judges 1:5-7)
People do know and did know when they had done wrong and according to the law adopted by the Jews and is written about in the Talmud, this law was considered a very positive thing, but in the time of Christ it began to be perverted by the Pharisees and taken very literally by the Sadducees. which is why Jesus keeps using the terminology you have “heard it said,” because his hearers knew just exactly what he was saying.
They had heard it said that, the Sadducees were considering adopting a more literal interpretation that you might risk losing your hand for stealing rather than paying an amount of money as a forfeit and then Jesus says in response to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, do not resist an evil doer, turn the other cheek!
To strike anyone of the right cheek entails giving them a backhander because since the left hand was considered unclean, no one would hit anybody of the right cheek with the left hand so in order to hit a person on the right cheek with the right had you had turn your hand over and hit them with back of your hand, and this was considered to be a challenge, a challenge to a fight, and Jesus is saying to turn the other cheek as well. Not to say anything, not to yell anything, not even walk away but just turn the other cheek.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.
In the Old Testament, it was the custom that if anyone owed you money, even if they were a very poor person they used to give their outer cloak as a forfeit but because they were poor and it was the only thing they had to sleep in it had to be returned to them every night and then the following day they had to return it to the one to whom they owed the money until the month was up, because in those days a loan had a very short period of about a month and once it was proved that the loan was fulfilled, then you could keep your outer garments and Jesus is saying if anyone wants to sue you then give them your cloak as well, which pretty much leaves you naked. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. It was a law, a Roman law that they could ask any Jewish citizen to pick up baggage and walk for them a mile as one such case very famous case when Simon of Cyrene was asked to carry the cross of Christ and he had no other choice than to do it, but to go the second mile was actually illegal and it would have put the roman person in a predicament.
Give to anyone who begs from you and do not refuse anyone who want to borrow from you. This can be a very hard saying for some of us today with so many people wanting our money and we have the feeling that everyone is on the take and that the money we give to them is not going to arrive at its destination. The money we give to the poor children in Africa is going to be lost somewhere in the middle, and do not refuse anyone who want to borrow from you and again we lend people money on the proviso that we know than we will get it back. Jesus talks about loving our enemies.
Love your enemies pray, for those who persecute you, if you were a Christian or a Shiite in Iraq today and you were to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you, it will be calling you to a very, very hard and higher law. The last thing you would want to do is love them and pray for them you would more likely be pleading with God to save you from your enemies, rather than loving them, but the reward for loving our enemies is that we may be children of our Father in heaven. And Jesus reminds us that God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good. And sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, our world is not divided down the middle. Into the good and the bad.
The evil and the good are mixed up like the tares in the wheat and so the sun shines on everything the rain falls on everything and both grow up together and we as Christians have to learn to deal with these as individuals, they are not sort of herded into a corner so that we can say oh these are our enemies we know where they are, so we can either hate them or we can love them. Now the thing is that if we only love who love us there’s really not much point in it. It’s sort of like the little kids at school and their gangs, if you’re in a certain prestigious gang you’re the bees knees and you go about, not actually loving each other but being with each other, doing all those things with each other and looking down and throwing insults at the other lesser people, all those that dream of joining you and you don’t get a reward for loving those who love you, because tax collectors and other sinners do the same, and if you only say hello and I love you to your brothers and sisters you are doing no more than the others because gentiles romans they do the same., be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect.
I just now want to have a quick, look at the epistle and also the psalm. Paul begins, “according to the grace of God given to me like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation and someone else is building on it” that master Builder is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the one upon whom we all depend for our very life, he is the one who came to fulfil the law and the prophets and in his manifesto spoken to his disciples on the mountain he shows us that he has come to do more than just lay a foundation for goodness, or teach how to keep the existing law, he came to teach the higher law, to fulfil it, he came and he died for it. And on the cross when he was spat upon, made fun off, he asked God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing, and he gave up his under garment and they gambled for his tunic because it only had one seam., and here Paul is speaking about the foundation he laid upon the gospel that he had been given and how someone like Apollos is building upon it. And how once more in the future someone else will build upon it for no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid and that foundation is Christ.
We can’t build on anything else, otherwise our house will fall down, though the faithfulness of our layer of bricks will be judged through fire and those that survive will be saved, those who do not measure up and whose woe is burnt in that fire will be saved, but only through a fire., because we are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in us. That is a very, very difficult thing to live up to. How can we say that God’s spirit lives within us? If the best we can do is to keep the lower law. We must strive to keep the higher law the one that’s Christ came to fulfil. Only then can we really be filled and really try and become a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The Psalm from 119. As it was last week, is about such a person who is trying to keep the law. And he asks God to teach him and he will keep it to the end, To help him understand to observe it with his whole heart to lead him in the path of the law, for he loves it. To turn his heart to God’s decrees and not to his selfish gain and each half of the verses that he says, turn my eyes from looking at vanities. Give me life in your ways. It is the prayer of the righteous man who is doing his best to at least keep the current law and in doing so he is also reaching out to that law which is the higher law, the one that Jesus brought to us, which simply says “love God, and love your neighbour. And today’s readings may be summarised with the simple sentence, ‘blessed are the peacemakers’.