Healing Our Divided Life – A Sermon On Matthew 5:21-37

Our older son Brandon often brought a friend over for supper. He was a really nice kid. He was polite and well behaved. He always said and did the right thing. I don’t remember his name but I do remember that between ourselves Cyndy and I sometimes referred to him as Eddie Haskell. 

Do you remember Eddie? He was the nice kid on the television show “Leave it to Beaver.” He was polite and well behaved. He always said and did the right thing, at least he did outwardly. But  you were never really sure that’s what was going on within him. What you saw wasn’t always what you got.

I don’t say that as a judgment or criticism of Eddie or Brandon’s friend. I say it in recognition that sometimes my inside life and my outside life don’t match up. Maybe that’s what Jesus is getting at in today’s gospel (Matthew 5:21-37).

You know what that’s like, right? When have you lived like Eddie Haskell? When has your inside contradicted your outside? In what ways are you living a double life today? 

That happens in all sorts of ways. Let me give you some examples:

  • Sometimes we put on a good front or pretend to be something or someone we are not, but we know that’s not really who we are. 
  • Has anyone ever asked how you were doing and you said, “I’m fine,” but you knew you weren’t? Your life was anything but fine. Maybe it wasn’t the right time or person to tell what was really going on or maybe you didn’t want to face what was going on. Either way there was a disconnect and you felt it. 
  • I had a friend who said that one of his biggest fears is that he would be found out and others would see he wasn’t really as he appeared. 
  • Haven’t there been times when you contradicted yourself and you knew that you were divided and fragmented within? 
  • We’ve probably all known or sometimes been that one whose public expression of faith and the gospel is not matched his or her private opinions, beliefs about others, or social media posts. 
  • And in today’s gospel Jesus says that sometimes we break the law even when we are nice people, polite and well behaved, and always say and do the right thing by keeping the law. Sometimes we follow the rules and break the relationship the law was intended to keep and support.

Isn’t that really what the law is about, to help us be in relationship with one another? Laws remind us that life and the relationships we have with one another are fragile. Maybe Jesus is trying to help us see the fragility of life and our relationships.

So when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …,” he is de-literalizing the law. He is intensifying and broadening its application. He’s making the interior aspect of the law as important as the exterior aspect. My grandmother used to put it like this, “It’s just as bad to think it as it is to say it.” 

Back then my response to that was, “Well, since I’ve already been thinking it I might as well go ahead and say it.” My grandmother didn’t find that nearly as funny or clever as I did. And I’m pretty sure that if she were to paraphrase Jesus today she might say, “It’s just as hurtful to be angry with another, to insult another, or to call another names, as it is to murder him or her. It’s just as unfaithful to look at and lust over another as it is to have sex with someone to whom you are not married.”

I hear that kind of stuff and I read today’s gospel and there’s a part of me that says to myself, Jesus, couldn’t you just have left well enough alone. We’ve got ten commandments, that’s enough. We don’t need more rules.

But I really don’t think Jesus is trying to be moralistic or legalistic and I don’t think he is simply adding to the “thou shalt not” list. I think he’s more interested in our wholeness, authenticity, integrity, and how or whether that gets expressed in our relationships with others. 

I think he is asking us to look deeper into our lives. He’s asking us to name and deal with what’s going on within us so that it doesn’t become something going on between us. The inner stuff that I ignore, deny, or refuse to deal with usually becomes outer stuff that I transmit to or project onto another in ways that are harmful not only to the other but also to myself. 

We often try to control or deal with our outer behavior, our words and actions, without acknowledging or tending to what’s going on within us. That’s sort of like controlling or eliminating the symptoms of a disease but not treating the disease that is causing the symptoms. You can be symptom free and still be sick.

Let me try to put that back in the context of today’s gospel. I may not physically kill another. I control my behavior. Outwardly I do say and do the right thing. But in what ways is my anger killing my relationship with another and leaving him or her dead to me? In what ways are my name calling and insulting of another ruining or taking his or her life? And in what ways is all that a betrayal of myself, a spiritual cancer eating away at my life?

It might sound like Jesus is laying down the law but maybe he’s really just inviting us into healing and wholeness.

Isn’t it interesting that every Sunday at the start of the liturgy we pray God to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.” We don’t begin the liturgy by asking God to help us improve our behavior, to keep us from doing this, or make us start doing that. The liturgy begins by taking us into our hearts to see what’s there and what’s not there, to see the condition of our heart, and to see what’s missing and what might be needed.

It’s from the deep heart that our relationships arise. It’s in the deep heart of my life that I find love. But it’s also where I find anger. It’s in the deep heart that I find my faithfulness, but I also find my betrayals. It’s in the deep heart that I find compassion and indifference, forgiveness and condemnation, brokenness and wholeness.

When you look into the deep heart of your life what thoughts do you see? What’s there? What are the hurts and wounds; the longings and desires; the needs, hopes, possibilities, and dreams; the disappointments and regrets; the joys and sorrows?

What if we were to look deep into our lives and name all the stuff there, in the same way Jesus holds before us the law about murder and asks us to name our anger, or the way he holds before us the law about adultery and asks us to name our lustfulness. 

What do you see? What are the thoughts of your heart? What do need What might healing and wholeness look like for you today?

Today’s gospel is offering us the opportunity to align our inside life and our outside life, to stop living an Eddie Haskell kind of life, and start live a new life in which we are more fully ourselves and more fully alive. It’s a life in which our yes really is yes with all that we are and all that we have, and our no really is no with all that we are and all that we have. That’s how I want to live, don’t you?

Image Credit:The Heart” by petalouda62 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


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