Tuesday, February 23, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 28: A New Path

Throughout Lent, many of us have been reading a different translation of the Sermon on the Mount each day (there's still time for you! Let me know if you want to be added to the email list). It is amazing to me how I hear different things each time I read, especially in the interpretations of different translators, each uncovering a different wrinkle in the original text.

On Sunday, I only really got to deal with the last of Jesus' statements in Matthew 5:17-48--the one about loving enemies. So, to help us sort through what Jesus is saying in this complex section of teaching, I thought I'd offer a translation of my own. Not from the original Greek (my three semesters of that blessed language are lost somewhere in the grey matter of my brain), but from all my study work on the passage over the past week. So this is a paraphrase more than a translation, I guess. But here's an offering--the Abby Standard Version, if you will--of some of what I hear in Jesus' teachings:

 Don't stop with where the law has already taken you--keep following the road to see what new places it might lead.

For instance, you've heard the command to not murder, and I’m not discounting this.  But carrying around your anger, insulting others, devaluing them by calling them names—that will land you in a place that’s just as bad as where murder gets you.  The outcome is the same:  destruction. Innocent lives destroyed, your community reduced to a trash heap. Go beyond this and do the hard work of reconciliation. This matters as much as the more visible work of physical restraint. Be those who act first to sustain relationship and restore it—not those who harbor grudges or pride.

What about adultery?  Take the command further and look at the attitudes that drive such an act—the ways you constantly treat each other as objects, the ways you want things at the expense of others.  If you are going to nurture such lust, you not only reduce the other person to their body parts, you maim yourself—that right eye that looks is cut off, that hand that wants to touch is cut off, because your relationship with that person has lost all its perspective, has lost its intended form.  Your punishment will fit your crime as you, too, find yourself disfigured and dehumanized.  You’ll be changed from a beautiful body of Christ into a horror movie, a collection of dismembered people who, again, are more likely to be found in that trash heap than in my beloved community.

And what about divorce? Yes, the law says it’s legal—but do you see what husbands being able to just sign a sheet of paper and throw out their wives does?  That’s how you all do divorce, with the stroke of a pen, and it reduces covenant to convenience; it leaves my children—those women—without voices, without anyone to care for them, exposed to society’s mercy—which is most often merciless.  It turns some of my children into less-than-human objects, just as adultery does.  This is not the life God has intended for you.  The way you divorce strips people of their safety, their sustenance, their honor—you cannot do this to one another and expect to flourish yourself.

And you know how the law says you must stand by your words if you have promised God that you will do so?  That’s just surface obedience—mere infant’s milk. You must live more deeply than this.  You must honor every word you speak, not just certain ones—truthful speech will be the foundation of this new community.  If you cannot be trusted to speak with integrity to one another in all times and places, how can this community ever thrive?  What will it be able to depend on?

I'd challenge you to try this this week--take just one section of Jesus' teaching, one of these six "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." and seek to put it in your own words. Do some research if you want, learn the cultural context behind it (www.textweek.com is a great resource I use weekly). Read Brian McLaren's chapter, too. Then consider the title of the chapter: with these words, how is Jesus encouraging us to walk God's path in a new way, extending it into territory we have never dared enter before?

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