Friday of Epiphany 6 – Matthew 5:21-37

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

“After reading this I feel icky.” Those were the words of a young woman in my New Testament class after I had explained just what Jesus meant by paragraphs in Matthew’s Gospel. She had thought that the Ten Commandments meant that if she had not picked up a gun or some weapon and killed someone that she did not need to worry about the murder commandment. Likewise, if she never had an affair, she would never have to plead guilty to adultery.

Jesus internalizes the commandments in these words, making their demands upon us far greater. I may resist the urge to strike my neighbor, but Jesus says the urge itself is a problem. I may not have an affair, but the desires which are in my heart mean I am no different in God’s eyes than that the man or woman who has broken marriage vows. She was right to feel icky. Jesus convicts anyone who takes His words seriously.

This passage ends too soon. Matthew thinks in longer readings than we use on Sunday mornings. Matthew is well aware of that old adage that actions speak louder than words. Immediately after speaking these terrible words of judgment, Jesus walks down the mountain and encounters a leper, probably the ickiest person Matthew could think of. You can read that encounter in Matthew 8:1-4. The man rushes up to Jesus, kneels before Him, and states, “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” At that point, Jesus does something important. He touches the man and says, “I am willing.”

Normally, when a healthy person touches a leper, the healthy person gets sick. But Jesus is not just a healthy man, he is health. When he touches the man, instead of infecting Jesus, the man catches health from Him. “I am willing,” says the Lord. The leprosy is cleansed from the man. Jesus is willing to reach out with that same hand to touch you. In fact, he has already done it in your baptism. He has touched you and given you the life which all your sin had destroyed and killed. That life will continue through death and resurrection to heavenly glory. Today, Jesus words would slay the old sinner within all of us. Remember too what Jesus did. It is far more important.   

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