Jesus Being Amazing, Again

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Hello, friends, and welcome back. I’m the Rev. Sare Liz Anuszkiewicz and this is the Sunday Sermon. If you’re looking for the bits of the bible I’ve referenced in this sermon, you can find the link right here on the website where you found this audio file. For the nerds in the know, this is the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, and here’s the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 12, 2023. 

Good morning! These are some hard readings we’ve got today, and they can be a little tricky to interpret, especially as we continue to hear bits and pieces of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, and it’s good to remember that in ten days it will be Lent, the time of self-reflection and personal growth, because we’ve just read Jesus asking us to do some hard-core self-reflection in preparation for personal growth.

We get Jesus reflecting on three of the ten commandments, and one of the lesser ones – don’t commit murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness, and the proper way to divorce your wife. Today I’m going to focus on the first two, and if you have questions about the last two, I’m available to discuss them during Coffee Hour.

Now, taken quite literally, there’s a lot of good stuff in this short passage from Matthew, like the idea that hating someone and denigrating them even in your own mind, or just in private with friends, that those actions walk down the same road, and the destination is murder. And Jesus tells us that yes, from ancient times we’ve known God doesn’t want us to commit murder, but let’s up the ante: don’t even walk down that road. Stop hating people. Because even if you never commit murder, hating people kills something beautiful in you. It’s a hell of your own creation.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in that hell. And reflecting back on it with some space, and some wisdom, and some forgiveness? It was terrible. Jesus… he knew what he was talking about.

That’s some good stuff, and that’s the Bible Taken Literally.

Ah, but in the very next paragraph we have Jesus saying something bombastic that perhaps should not be taken literally, and honestly it reminds me of other ‘Enlightened Masters’ who have accidentally founded new religions (oops) saying bombastic things not so that they may be taken literally, but so they may get a point across to some rather thick-headed people. I’m reminded of the story where Buddha tells some students that if they see the Buddha on the road, they should kill him. And the point there is not tough, but also not literal, because Buddha wasn’t advocating acts of murder in the street. Rather, if they see someone who seems to be enlightened, just walk on; don’t change your whole life to follow every teacher that comes by. Just do what you already know you need to do, and keep walking.

Likewise, when Jesus tells us that if our eye causes us to sin, we should tear it out, and if our hand causes us to sin, we should cut it off, first of all, he’s talking to men. Not women. Because in this example he’s talking about specifically, how men treat women in a time of deep and profound misogyny. Now, I really don’t think he wants men to cut bits off when they wrong a woman by objectifying her, or raping her, but perhaps the point Jesus is trying to make is that just as all murder is inherently a hate crime so don’t hate, men have no right to treat women the way they did, and certainly in some places, still do. Not all men today in our own modern world understand that, and two thousand years ago in Jesus’ time, this was a totally revolutionary idea and to drive home that it was actually important and not a complete joke, Jesus throws in some imagery of bodily mutilation.

Do we actually need to mutilate ourselves? No. But respecting the rights of women is that important, and it was to Jesus, if not all of his followers. I’ll grant you, our vision of the proper rights of women have changed over the years, but here’s an uncomfortable newsflash: Even the very few rights a woman had two thousand years ago in the Roman-occupied Palestine Jesus lived in, even then the rights she had weren’t respected and honored by all the men around her. And those women were totally powerless to do anything about it. But Jesus wasn’t. And it gives me chills, sometimes, to imagine him pinning one of his students with that compassionate, all-knowing stare and informing them that in general, they’d be better off tearing out their own eyes than to look at a woman who wasn’t their wife, to look at her, to lust after her, to laugh about it, like she, too, wasn’t a Beloved Child of God. I mean, would Jesus want his student to be actually blind? No. He cured people like that. He wanted the student to respect women, because if he didn’t he was already blind to the most important part of her, that she, too, was part of God.

And just like hate traps you in a hell of your own making, unthinking power over others blinds you to the truth about them.

…yup. We’re definitely preparing for Lent.


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