Matthew 5: 48
The sermon on the Mount continues in todays Gospel reading and all I can say is that Jesus was definitely not an Anglican. No one in the Anglican church would have sat through this sermon. It seems to have went for hours if not days and wasn’t arranged according to the appropriate style taught in theological colleges. There was no witty introduction, way more than the mandatory 3 points and no encouraging call to action.
It was troublesome, awkward, disconnected and, for want of a better description, a hotch-potch of ideas – a stream of consciousness collection of fragments of thoughts and ideas loosely combined into a long and very challenging lecture. You wouldn’t get away with it today either at church or in the university lecture room!
Each section seems to have a point and does hold together but what is the core essence of this, the signature policy statement of the new political and religious paradigm ushered in by Jesus? How are we to piece together the fragments and make a whole or is it sufficient to reflect on each section and apply that to our own lives and circumstances?
In this section Jesus reworks the ten commandments once more and raises the bar for living connected lives in a broken world. The idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was to ensure that the punishment to be endured by an evildoer was commensurate with the crime committed. It was designed to avoid zealous law enforcement resulting in punishment way worse than the crime.
Jesus relocates this saying, not in the cultic relationships of the chosen people, but in to the fraught relationships they had with those in power – the Romans. He states unequivocally that this law applies to those who are our enemies, who are unlike us, and that the implementation of this law is not only about correct relationships but a method of non-violent action in a violent world.
Verses 39-41 pushes the boundaries of societal standards and puts the onus on those with the power to think about what they would do. Turning the other check after you were hit with an open hand challenges the other to hit you with the back of the hand, a no no. Soldiers were lawfully allowed to ask you to carry their pack for 1 mile, to carry it further was breaking the law. In a legal stoush you were entitled to be left with the basics for human decency, to give that over to the one who was suing you was shameful for them, not you.
Then we have the biggie, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. At this stage, I would think even the faithful disciples were starting to wonder about Jesus and his sanity. Here they were living in the midst of a violent and oppressive system over seen by the conquering Romans and the pedantic Pharisees and Sadducees, the temple elite, and he is saying love your enemies. Has he lost his mind? If this stuff get out he would be seen as one without integrity, his cause for a new kingdom would have no substance.
Yet it is all about integrity, the whole of the Sermon on the Mount is all about integrity. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Alan Behm writes: “Integrity is what happens when our lives are integrated; when who we are and what we do match. Integrity is what happens when what we believe translates into how we live. That’s how we live out God’s generous and unrestricted grace and mercy and love in our relationships with those around us”.
The perfection we are called to is the perfection of God – the complete oneness that distinguishes God from all other creatures and creations. God is one is not divided by a public or private self, by a public or a private persona. God holds no thing back. God is God at all times and is perfect because of it. Unlike a mountain there is no other side we can not see, nothing is hidden from us and that is the point of the love your enemies command – God can not not love God’s enemies. God is love by nature and will love regardless of whom is being loved.
Love is the integrity of God. Love is God’s perfection, experienced by all regardless of who they are or what they have done. We are called to be perfect by and in love, by the love we receive for this unconditional love of God’s set us free to love others in just the same way.
Our integrity is bringing together within ourselves all the dysfunction in the world and loving it as much as we love the loveable. We can have no favourites, no inner circle amd none who are excluded. Our integrity in love is the capacity to love others as they are, not as we want them to be for to do that, to love them as we want them to be, is to simply love the reflection of ourselves we see in them.
And our reflection may be smeared with the fingerprints of our own shortcomings.
Integrity has its beginning in how we love ourselves and how we live our lives in unity with the truth about ourselves. No one is complete at this very moment. None is without regrets or skeletons rattling deep within. We are frail and feeble humans who have found our way in this world, largely by trial and error. Loving ourselves is the capacity to bring into unity the many aspects of ourselves and to be able to live with the truth that we have been loved into perfection by perfection itself – God.
Integrity is the capacity to let go of those things we have constructed to protect ourselves from ourselves and to pull down the false wall lived between the world and ourselves. Living with integrity is difficult and rare – difficult to do and rare to witness. Yet it is what we are called to do. It is confronting to face the secrets and failures we have papered over by success, professionalism and fancy clothes. It is confronting to sit down in the dark and realise your life is like a discordant symphony – full of sharp edges and hidden corners – and that you are called to do something about it.
The Sermon on the Mount is that call from Jesus to the people of his time to live with integrity, to stop fooling themselves that they were faithfully living the commandments when they were unable to love their enemies. It is Jesus call to us to face the same in our own lives, in the life of the church and in the life of our nation. It is not easy but it is necessary otherwise life will always be bits and pieces cobbled together in a magicians illusion, not perfection.
Living with integrity as God lives is our designated vocation, let’s make it real. Amen