Wednesday, January 8, 2014
The Power of the Imaginative Story: Matthew (part 5)
In the movie Minority Report, the minds of three young seers are tapped to give future law enforcement authorities the ability to stop crimes before they actually happen. These glimpses into the future allow the police to thwart wrongdoing—especially murder—when the acts are nothing more than possibilities bubbling in the perpetrators’ minds.
Jesus said some startling things about guilt, sin, and righteousness—things that didn’t allow for the disconnecting of the mind from the body, of intentions from actions, of the state of the heart from the committing of the crime. He showed that the apparent outward righteousness of certain religious leaders—specifically the Jewish scribes and Pharisees—was a smokescreen that obscured the hidden realities of their inward realities. He wasn’t shy in his attacks against their hypocrisies and would say things like,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)
As Jesus sat with his followers on the side of the mountain, he must have shocked them with the contrasts he made concerning what they had learned from their childhoods in home and synagogue against the deeper way of thinking about life that he was laying before them. He challenged them with seven brain-twisting examples drawn from the law of Moses and also from conventional folk wisdom:
Love for the enemy
Giving of alms
Jesus brilliantly reminds his followers about what they have heard about each of these topics, and then moves behind the veil and reveals the heart that birthed each action. Are people free from the sin because they haven’t committed murder or adultery? No, because the reality of anger and lust in the human heart binds all people together under a shroud of guilt where the seeds of destruction and violation are planted, sometimes sprouting and sometimes not.
Are people safe when they build walls against one another through the legalities of divorce, the craftiness of contractual language, rules allowing for revenge, and the acceptability of hatred? Jesus collapses them all, and draws his listeners into ways of engaging with others in the completeness of love that comes only from God.
It was probably easy for people in Jesus’ day to allow social, religious, political, and military frameworks to provide artificial safety zones in which to live. It’s just as easy for us to do it as well. It’s easier to label other people as sinners when we deny the realities of our own hearts. It’s easier to allow the boundaries and borders of nation-states to define the word “neighbor” than it is to see all people as co-humans made in the image of God. It’s easier to crush others under religious dogma than it is to listen deeply and find where God is already at work in the lives of those who are not like us.
There are many areas of life and thinking where Jesus rightly declares, “You have heard that it was said . . . .”
It’s more important for us to hear, “But I say to you . . . .”
[See Matthew chapter 5 for the details of Jesus’ words to his followers]