In our gospel text from Matthew today we have some of what are called the “hard sayings” of Jesus.
These are words and statements that feel uncomfortably harsh to us.
Jesus says things like, “If you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire,” and, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
That seems pretty extreme. That doesn’t feel much like the loving Savior we have come to know and trust.
And it is critical that we reevaluate these statements and try to understand what Jesus is saying to us, because if we don’t, we are liable to play into the narrative of a dominating, vengeful and hateful God that people have feared for generations.
The knowledge of God’s love is always easy to crush with the false rumor of God’s wrath.
Many people over the centuries have either lived consumed by anxiety when faced with a seemingly furious God incapable of love and generosity, or used the wrathful false God to beat other people into submission.
Here we might actually find Jesus’ words quite helpful, reminding us that negative actions are always driven by negative thoughts.
And attributing our origin and care to a hateful, unfree God thirsty to murder his only Son to satisfy an inflexible “justice” seems rather unlikely to nurture gentleness and compassion in ourselves.
Remember that many of the Bible’s statements about God’s wrath, vengeance and hatred say much more about the human authors than God’s actual character.
The nature of God in the Bible developed as humanity’s level of consciousness developed.
In the early days, surrounded by war and carried off into slavery, the first Biblical writers could not conceive of a non-violent God.
Many people today struggle to accept the abject humility and poverty of the God who gave Godself entirely to be hated and killed by God’s own creatures.
It’s more comfortable to project our own fear and anger onto God, because then we can imagine that God’s fear and anger are taken out on the people we dislike the most.
But Jesus is saying himself in our text today that our outer actions of breaking relationship only reflect a deeper, untended brokenness within, and that is where we need to journey if we seek true spiritual transformation.
There is a case to be made that Jesus is actually doing something quite tricky here. Continue reading