MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: You have heard it before....But, I say unto you

By Frank Drenner
Special to the Herald Democrat

Lent, the forty days before Easter, is a time to work on our spiritual lives--to explore what deeper meaning and further commitment God may be calling us to. So we are pole vaulters in a track and field meet. We're running down the track, pole in hand, headed toward the bar. Jesus sets the bar high; are you ready to fly?

There is a refrain running throughout the second half of The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5. Six times, Jesus begins a teaching with the same words: “You have heard it said before… But I say to you…” When he says something about before, he gives a teaching from the Law or Prophets, the Jewish scriptures-- most often one of the Ten Commandments.

You have heard it said before:

❏ You shall not murder

❏ You shall not commit adultery

❏ Do not divorce (not strictly forbidden in scripture)

❏ Don’t swear falsely

❏ Eye for an eye

❏ Love your neighbor and hate your enemy (that last part is not found in the Old Testament. No one is ever commanded to hate anyone.)

Jesus takes these familiar practices and re-imagines-- not invalidates-- them, bringing a different perspective.

But I say to you:

❏ Hurtful attitudes, harsh words, and name calling are deadly too

❏ Whoever is lustful already commits adultery

❏ Faithful relationships require hard work by both parties

❏ Do not retaliate when attacked, but also do not give in; challenge the offender by showing abundant grace

❏ Love and pray for those who would hurt us

As I read these new interpretations of longstanding practices I thought of the Civil Rights icons of the 1950s and 1960s. They challenged established practices in order to give sight to a new vision of God’s promised justice for all people. Rosa Parks was a long time activist before her arrest for refusing to move to the back of a bus on December 1, 1955. She did not accept the humiliation of moving, but also did not respond by humiliating the bus driver. Protestors sat at lunch counters peacefully and quietly, not responding to harsh words and violence inflicted upon them. Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s strategy of nonviolent resistance was heavily influenced by Gandhi’s movement against the oppressive British rule in India.

Dr King, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and the other Civil Rights icons understood the oppressive systemic racism of the day could not be overcome in a narrow interpretation of “eye for an eye/tooth for a tooth--” seeking revenge or responding to humiliation with violence or anemic acceptance of second-class status. What was needed was a new way to model being human. The ultimate goal was for both the oppressor and oppressed to embrace full humanity for all. As recent events in our country have revealed, we are not there yet. Still, Jesus calls us further and deeper. Are you ready to soar above the highest bar?

“You have heard it said before…” “But I say to you…” Jesus offers a deeper relationship, one more fulfilling, in which God’s covenantal love is revealed in a new way. He isn’t dismissing Judaism; nor is he demonizing his religious opponents. Likewise, we will not become the Beloved Community by demonizing other faith traditions or by embracing whatever best reflects our own personal belief system. Jesus is not throwing out, he is building upon a great foundation. He is fulfilling, not replacing, a specific value system. As we journey through the Season of Lent, let us consider how we are living in to this Way of Blessedness Jesus offers.

➔ How are we practicing reconciliation?

➔ Are our cravings/desires causing us to lose focus?

➔ Are we glorifying God and each other in our relationships?

➔ Are we seeking retaliation or vengeance or a just resistance?

➔ Are we exhibiting God’s love for everyone--even our enemies?

Jesus ends Chapter 5 with these words: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Talk about a high bar! Perfection is the goal of the Christian life. God’s grace sanctifies us throughout our lives, making it possible to achieve perfection in love. May we soar above the high bar of Christian faith, knowing God’s grace empowers us, launches us, guides us, and thankfully, gives us a soft landing!

Frank Drenner

Frank Drenner was ordained in 1998 and has served as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sherman since July 2016. He is married to Christy, and together they have three sons. Find more from Drenner at http://www.pastorfrankdrenner.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.