Word & Spirit

The Testimony of Two

Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 5: 38-48: God and Us, Really, Us.

Posted by M G Kizzia on February 18, 2011

You have heard it said…  We get conventional wisdom that we have always understood to be righteous, good Christian thinking.

But I tell you…  We get fanatical words, expectations above and beyond what any normal mortal human being could ever do.

Then we get the kicker:  Be perfect, and not just in human terms.  Be as perfect as God.  What?

What we have here is information about two things: God and us, and it has in mind to move us in one inevitable direction.

God

God goes above and beyond for all people.  He gives to those who ask.  He does not turn away those who need.  God loves even his enemies.  He calls out to and seeks to touch the heart even of those who despise him and seek to denigrate his name and oppose any mention of him in public and try to lure people away from God, from Jesus, from faith.  God does not play favorites in terms of the natural order of life, either.  But he does not give up loving and calling to even the most wicked people – those that we gave up on long ago as lost.

I don’t know why some claim we can’t really know anything about God.  It is plain to me.  As Calvin said, the Word of God tells us about God and ourselves.

Ourselves

So we are to be perfect as God is perfect?  Well, yes.  At least that appears to be God’s intention for us.  Still, all honesty says we are never going to be God perfect in this life.  But here we do have some indication where there might be room for improvement.  As long as we are on this highway of life, it seems we might work on what God wants.  At the very least it would show us that we are headed in the right direction.  So let’s see:

When someone does us a bad turn or takes advantage of us, maybe we shouldn’t jump immediately to thoughts of revenge or getting even.  And maybe we can work on being more generous and giving and less inclined to think, what’s in it for me?  Do you think God might be pleased to see his children making the effort?

Then, I think it might help if we remember that all of us are simply human in need of grace and prayer.  We might think some people need a LOT of prayer.  Well, okay for now, but then do that.  Pray for them. 

Then also, envy and jealousy never hurt the other person.  That is something we can all work on, I think.  God doesn’t play favorites that way.  So what if some drunk, murdering illegal alien wins the lottery.  It’s like we just said.  Pray for them.  Pray really, really hard.

I think we can all stand to – how should I put it – expand the circle of our love.  And would it really hurt us to greet people we come across in public with a kind word and welcoming smile.  No, I think we can all do that if we try.

So there is plenty here for us to work on because everything here is stuff where it is impossible to be perfect. But that brings us to the final part:

The inevitable direction

Jesus is speaking here with Jerusalem calling out to him.  He knows what will be required and he knows the promised result.  Here he makes plain what the apostle Paul summed up when he said, “…we have all fallen short of the glory of God.”  Because of that, we all ought to find some serious inspiration here to give thanks for the cross of Christ.  Because we are far from perfect.  Because without Christ we are all dead.  But will we really get it?

You see, there is the rub, Mister Shakespeare.  That is always the rub.  We have churches full of people who think they are already close to heaven, standing on Heaven’s doorstep, waiting only to cross over so God can tell them what a wonderful job they did and how perfect they already are…  How do we tell them about this sort of thing without offending them?  It is wonderful to be pointed in the right direction, but do the people really want to hear how long a road we have to walk and how far away we really are? 

If we are honest in our assessment, and this passage allows for nothing else, we may expect our cheeks to be slapped, our cloaks to be taken and ourselves to be persecuted.  It is HARD to say things people don’t want to hear.  Still, we should remember what Jesus told the Pharisee when the woman came and anointed his feet.  “Those who are forgiven much, love much.  But those who are forgiven little…”  And after all, what does God want most of all but our love?

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