Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Soon we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day in the U.S. Children all over the country will write cute notes on construction paper hearts and hand them to their friends at school.
If only love were that simple.
Matthew moves us quickly from the nice sayings of Jesus (“blessed are the poor in spirit,” “you are the salt of the earth”) to the hard ones (“if you say ‘you fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire,” “you will never get out until you have paid the last penny”). Ouch. I liked the nice Jesus better.
It’s so much simpler to believe, “Hey, I’m a pretty good person. I mean, it’s not as though I ever killed anybody.” As a CSI fan, I agree that not having killed anybody is a pretty good thing. So did Jesus’ hearers. But honestly, for most people, “don’t commit murder” is a pretty low bar. I like low bars. The high bars, not so much. They require me to pay attention to my hurtful words, and even my hateful anger. Stuff nobody else can see. Well, nobody except God.
This close to Valentine’s Day, Jesus chooses to meddle all the way from murder, to what is going on in our hearts. I don’t think he really is saying that over-the-top anger and nasty words are just as bad as murder, but rather that the commandment not to kill really means that we honor life in other people. We honor it in such a way that both they and we live more fully.
Jesus’ law of love draws us into a deeper understanding of our own hearts, and a deeper appreciation of how the other person occupies space in the heart of God.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
©Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011