Sermon on the Mount Part II

02-16-2020Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

One of the two biggest topics that is often discussed is the amount of traffic we now have and how few parking places there are. Indeed rush hour and congestion now seems to run all day, from very early morning until very late evening. Parking spaces in the City of Boston can cost between forty and sixty dollars, with monthly rates not too much less. We know here in Franklin how difficult it is to park at many of the houses of worship, including our own. The rules for parking that apply to hydrants, corners, driveways, and access ramps are not always strictly followed. Our Town graciously relaxes the parking rules somewhat for all of our churches on Sundays, but the safety laws still apply. Some folks do not want to know how to use the common sense values of safety and courtesy. It is so normal today for people to think that they are special and that rules and laws do not apply to them, only to other people. Our scripture this weekend invites us to ponder about the spirit and letter of the law and also our freedom to choose.

We need to remember that we are continuing to read the section of the Gospel which continues the speeches of Jesus after his great Sermon on the Mount; they are, in a sense, the Mount talk, Part II. In today's passage Jesus insists that he has come to fulfill, not abolish the law of Moses. Jesus is very clear in this as he says repeatedly, "You have heard …" with the contrast of,"But I say …" Quite like the powerful Beatitudes, Jesus again aims for the heart and also for the spirit. The Lord does not settle for mere avoidance of outright murder or adultery or lying. He actually goes to the source of murder, which is often hatred, resentment, or spite. He insists on chaste and modest living. He does away with the one-sided loopholes that allow men to divorce women, a law based on the view of women as possessions and property. He does not allow anyone to play fast and loose with marriage. He makes no allowances for careless and inexact telling of the truth or swearing oaths, and also of confusing decent people with "baloney."

Note how the condemnation of Jesus of those who fail to fulfill the law is swift and harsh. He is angry and his words are few, but powerful. Jesus cares a lot about the spirit and the letter of the law. His listeners and followers learn that they are to honor the law completely. His demands are uncompromising. He warns that the consequences of failure are obvious. The smallest ones are watching. These little ones depend on the word and action of the adult and the knowledgeable. Indeed, to betray these little ones is to fail terribly.

Jesus also speaks against a constant flow of criticism and disdain from those on whom the least depend. He notes that some who know the law well use their knowledge to subvert the same law Jesus reverences. Jesus points out that there are some who are scholars in the law who use their power to condemn people and to pile on rules that defeat rather than sustain one's life with God. Jesus is not angry at the little ones, but towards the sly and sneaky—the big ones— the scribes and Pharisees.

Saint Paul also addresses the little ones. Paul dismisses the "phonies and fakes" and exalts the wisdom of God revealed to the smallest. We hear in the reading this day that the Christians at Corinth possess this wisdom revealed by God, and more importantly, what God has planned for them is beyond their imagining. They are not to worry or be fearful, nor be dismayed.

All of this is quite difficult to live each day, but we must try to live it all as authentically as we can. We must practice the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount in our daily lives. These gospel passages following this great Sermon on the Mount give us understandings and insights into how to live all this.