Respect, Protect, Elevate: Mt. 5:21-37
#RespectProtectElevate is the Podcast for February 12, 2017. Perspective and a proper lens can make things much clearer and more vibrant in our lives. How do we reconcile chopping off hands and gouging eyes with respecting humanity. Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Forgiveness #Fulfillment #MessianicCommunity #Lust #TheGreatCommandments #objectification #Respect
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 2/12/2017 The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 5:21-37.
When my children were little and they used to bump their shins, stub their toe, or hurt themselves in some way that was not all that serious, I would use hyperbole to give them some perspective. I would scoop them up and ask them if it was so serious that we needed to go to the hospital and get their toe cut off. Usually, they would start to giggle, give a gentle knock on the top of my head and say, “Silly Daddy!” One time, my son Luke got that wonderful little boy smile he has and said, “You are diriculous.”
There are many things going on in the passages today from the Sermon on the Mount. We do not want to get lost in the gouging out of eyes and cutting off of hands to think that the Lord is being literal. There is a greater point to be made and it is found in verse 20, the verse just proceeding what we heard. Jesus is saying that our righteousness ought to go beyond that of the scribes and the Pharisees, those groups that literally followed the Law in the Torah of the Old Testament to a “t” (and judged, castigated, and demeaned those who did not).
It should not be lost on us, as those who wish to be a part of our local Messianic Community, that Jesus is the Messiah, both God and human. He is interpreting the fifth and sixth commandments, with the ninth commandment thrown in. Even more so, he is giving us the flesh on the bones of the Second Great Commandment. In short, the God of the universe in human form is telling us that to understand how we shall not commit adultery, nor commit murder, we have to have the Second Great Commandment in mind. Jesus, by virtue of his being the Son of God, has the authority to interpret the commandments. That is quite a claim. For our purposes of coming up to Lent, we need to know that equating Jesus with the Father in Heaven is going to get him killed, but that is later.
In his authoritative teaching, Jesus is telling us that it is not enough to just follow things by the letter of the law. There is a quality that understands the value of persons and things in the universe. This above all is the point of following God. There are rules to be followed, for sure, but they gain their meaning by valuing things properly. That is why the Scribes and the Pharisees get so much of Jesus’ scorn, yes scorn. The Lord calls it like it is, thank you.
Our first priority is God. You shall love the Lord your God with all your…you know. That is the First of the Ten Commandments. It is the interpretive key to all of them. What does God love? The Lord loves his creation, both the physical earth and the people he created. In fact, he created the Earth to house his favorite creation, humans. He wants us to be loved: he counts the hairs on our heads, he delights in us, he considers us even though we are not even observably worthy of being considered. This is why the Second Great Commandment is just as important as the First Great Commandment. (I might note that the First Great Commandment and the First of the Ten Commandments are the same. Also, the Second Great Commandment is a summation of the last nine of the Ten Commandments.) Of course, the Second Great Commandment is to love your neighbor as you would love yourself.
Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes on to tell us how we are to take these two foundational commandments and use them as keys to unlocking what it means to be holier than the Scribes and Pharisees. If we value people, then it is not enough to just not murder them. We have to stop hating them, being angry with them.
Think of all the assumptions we make about those we hate or with whom we are angry. The entire economy of the United States was based upon slavery. To justify slavery, we made up all kinds of hooey about black people. We have made up stuff about the Irish, the Germans, the Polish (I cannot tell you how tiring Polish jokes can be). Now, having served in a Mexican immigrant dominated parish, I can tell you that hard work, law abiding, faith centered, family centered, and intelligent would be words that would describe them. Yet, my point is that we often make up things about those we hate.
It usually starts out with a thought or a sentence like this, “I bet he…” or “Ya’ know she probably…” Then, after we have characterized them in a bad way, we see their actions, no matter how innocent their actions, we try them, convict them, and kill them in our hearts. They have been sucked hollow of their personhood. We convince ourselves, they have no feelings like we do, because they are “like that.” When we objectify someone as to their character, we fail to love them. We fail to see them as a person, created in the image and likeness of God.
As to adultery, Jesus is blowing the lid off the whole structure of the society of his day. Adultery was seen as the crime of the woman. Men, indeed, were punished for their participation, but what Jesus is doing here is saying that the men who look at a woman with lustful intentions, they are guilty of adultery. Whoa! This blows the lid off of patriarchy. It means that women are not chattle. They are not objects. They are persons, people, who deserve to be treated as such.
A facebook friend of mine, Lauren Blauw, posted a couple of weeks ago how she was at the gym. She had a great workout. She commented that she was all sweaty, which made her feel less than glamorous. There was this guy at the gym. He kept staring at her. It wasn’t just a glance, a thoughtful and kind stare. It was THE stare. The, “ew-I-know-what-you-are-thinking-about-me-at-this-moment” stare that I have heard so many women talk about. When I fb messaged Lauren to ask her about the encounter, she messaged me back, “I felt like I needed to get to the locker room ASAP.”
It is the same concept as character assassination. We create these lenses through which we look at others and then we won’t let them escape. It strips them of their will and intellect so that we can control them through our version of who they are. Lauren became an object of someone who had no right to make her into an object. This is what lust does. Lust is pure ridiculous, outrageous, it-would-never-happen-that-way fantasy. To make Lauren, who is so delightful, funny, and talented that her facebook page is worth visiting, to make Lauren an object is to put her in a straight jacket that no woman should wear. Women are humans, persons, with brilliant amazing minds.
Now, if that “come-hither” stare was from her husband, who was totally committed to her, cherished her, validated her, then it sends an entirely different message. The husband’s stare would not violate her personhood. When a husband shows interest in his wife, he is affirming her sexual goodness. When someone who is unknown does it, it is a violation of the Law of God.
We don’t have enough time to cover divorce or the oath taking in this [sermon] podcast, but let me just say that nothing created by the Lord was intended to violate the personhood of another. We sin when we objectify, or make objects out of, God’s people. This is why racism is a sin. This is why adultery is a sin. This is why murder, anger, not making peace with an adversary, are all sins.
Here is the crux of the matter: the focus of righteousness is to create an environment in a Messianic Community where the personhood of others is respected, protected, and elevated. The focus of our communities is to respect, protect, and elevate the personhood of others; God first, and then humanity. There is a place for anger, when your personhood has been violated. There is a place for divorce, when your personhood is violated beyond reason. There is a place for all of these things the law allows, but they are not the rule. The rule is to respect, protect, and elevate the personhood of the other because that is what love is.
Jesus is not done with this line of reasoning yet. Until then, let us look at our own lives and ask simply, where have we not been respected, protected, and elevated? Maybe we need to say something kindly. Where have we failed to respect, protect, and elevate the personhood of the other? Then we need to repent. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian