“[Jesus] has been acclaimed in the west as the prince of passive resisters,”… “He was the most active resister known perhaps to history. His was non-violence par excellence.”
– Mohandas Gandhi
You can find the Gospel reading for the 6th Sunday in ordinary time here.
In this Gospel, scripture scholars see Jesus describing a new ethic and new legal principles. We are not to be bound by the old laws but we should be observing the new laws set down by Jesus. An honest scripture scholar will also tell you that these are considered the most controversial versus in all of Matthew and even the best scholars do not agree on an interpretation. So what are we to make of the words of Jesus?
We need to redefine the entire Christian experience in the language of our day. The language of yesterday doesn’t do it anymore, and I refuse to make an idol out of it.
– John Shelby Spong
Do not allow yourself to be bound by the old laws of Christianity. Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. If we are going to redefine the Christian experience we need to take our cues from Jesus and apply new understandings to the old ways.
Just like Jesus, we may be misunderstood as being opposed to or contradicting the Christian teachings of yesterday. Jesus wen out of his way to say he did not come to abolish the old laws but to fulfill them. This is our day and we have the authority redefine our experience and language. In truth, we must go beyond the staid and rigid Christianity of yesterday by amplifying and modifying the Christian experience to bring it back to the original will of God. This is exactly what Jesus did for the Old Testament. We must call on Jesus to help us do the same for the New Testament. We have not come to abolish the Christianity of yesterday but to fulfill it.
Luke gives us his big scene up front. Matthew does the same with the Sermon on the Mount. It’s on a mountain, where else? Moses is on a mountain … Sinai. Jesus is on a mountain saying, “You’ve heard what was said to them of old, what I say to you.” I couldn’t imagine Matthew starting off with something else. Jesus is a new Moses.
John Dominic Crossan
We need to begin our new ethic by saying “you have heard that it was said…” Moses began speaking this way in the Old Testament and Jesus began speaking this way in the New Testament. I will give you an example of how this can work for us today.
You have heard that it was said “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you whoever holds prejudices against a gay, lesbian or transgender neighbor will be liable to judgement. If you go to Mass this Sunday expecting to receive communion while realizing that you hold these prejudices in your heart, go instead to ask forgiveness from your neighbor and put an end to those prejudices. Then come to Mass and receive communion with God’s community.
You may be thinking that this is changing the words of Jesus, but not really. We are simply deepening the law established by Jesus to bring it back to the will of God. Moses said do not kill. Jesus said do not be angry (deeper understanding). We say do not be prejudiced (even deeper understanding). You may also be thinking that we do not have the license to augment the words of Jesus, but we do.
The conclusion of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar, for example, was that only 16% of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels are actually authentic, accurate portrayals of what Jesus really said. The other 84% are words read into the Jesus of history by an interpreting community during the oral period.
– John Shelby Spong
Through the Holy Spirit our community has a duty to interpret God’s will and update the language of our Jesus experience. When we pray “on Earth as it is in heaven” we are speaking to each other about our desire to build the kingdom of God here and now. If we are going to have the kingdom Jesus spoke about we can’t allow the old language of Christianity to define our Christianity any longer. We know that homosexuality is not a sin, but prejudice is. To build the kingdom we do not need to abolish the law or the prophets, but rather fulfill them.
So Jesus likened the spread of the kingdom of God to leaven working its way quietly through the dough. Unlike the kingdoms of the world, which impose authority from above, the kingdom of God would spread from the bottom, as people developed self-discipline and mutual concern for one another.
– Lloyd Geering
Surfers, I have a story to help us understand how the kingdom is spread from the bottom up. let me introduce you to Dr. Manish Sethi. Dr. Sethi is a surgeon in Nashville Tennessee who’s concern for those suffering in the community has lead him to teach nonviolence and self-discipline. He decided to take steps to bring these lessons to the children in the Nashville community through the AVB program.
“Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders (AVB),” is a teenage health teaching module created by educational scientists at Harvard Medical School. AVB’s premise is that violence is learned and can, therefore, be unlearned. According to the AVB website, the backbone of the program is its four-step think-first model of conflict resolution, which provides students with a framework for dealing with and changing the habits of thought that can lead to violence. The four steps are as follows:
Size up the situation.
Think it through.
Do the right thing.
The actions of people like Dr. Sethi are what is needed to bring us closer to the will of God. If you take away one thing from this homily it should be that prejudice, like violence, is a learned behavior. If it is learned it can be unlearned. We can change our bad habits of thought that lead to prejudice and that will help build the kingdom of God on earth. It all starts by deepening the new ethic of Jesus through redefining the Christian experience and language of today.