Sermon Notes: Ordinary 6, Year A – the letter of the Law

Text: Matthew 5:17-37

  • It is the law which so often runs us into trouble
    • Controversy over European Courts vs the Sovereignty of Parliament
    • The letter of the law being very different to the spirit of the law
    • Laws that are unenforceable,impractical or simple knee-jerk reactions (Dangerous Dogs Act, CRB Checks, and even worse the shelving of the ISA safeguarding mechanism)
  • The Laws of Moses have been both a source of light and inspiration to us over the centuries
  • And have also been a millstone
    • because they weren’t written for us
    • they were written for a nomadic people, moving into a new territory, seeking to ethnically clense the land of the Canaanites and replant the vine of Israel (Ps 90)
    • The Law of Moses is about separation, about practical purity, about ensuring that the Jewish lineage was not diluted by intermarriage
    • So the Law of Moses prescribes in both literal and metaphorical terms the dangers of mixing with the locals
      • So a fabric may not be made of two different kinds of thread
      • So the eating of animals which are neither one thing nor another (like shellfish) is prohibited
      • So ritual practices associated with the worship of ‘foreign Gods’ such as tattooing or sexual practices are forbidden
  • These laws were written because as Jesus says in relationship to divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts”
  • For the context in which these laws were created, they were in many ways appropriate (although the culture of separation and ethnic clensing is perhaps debateable)
  • Just as some laws in England no longer have relevance (the requirement to practice archery every Sunday after Mass for example), so the letter of the Jewish Law is no longer strictly appropriate.
  • We should be careful when trying to apply Bronze Age constructs to 21st Century society: there are some places where the sense of what the Torah is trying to say is more important than the actual words.
  • Jesus comes therefore to his own time and to our time, to complete the law, and with the advent of Christ, the law becomes complete and the time to move on has come.
  • We gladly threw out the dietary laws, even during the lives of the first apostles, but the hardness of our hearts has limited the extent to which we have taken that, to the point where most people on the streets believe that these days to be a Christian is not to seek tolerance, forgiveness or understanding, but to claim special privilege, prejudice and judgement over the sexuality and morality of others.
  • This is not what Christ calls us to. Matthew 7:1 calls us not to judge, but to trust in the righteous judge and to follow the will of God not in the pharisaical letter of the law, but in the sweep of the Gospel
    • To love
    • To forgive
    • To heal
    • To reconcile
  • Jesus recognises that our sin may be deeply buried within us
    • That lust inside is as corrosive as the adulterous act itself
    • That the law merely frames the evil and wrong doing of society
      • If the law on Murder were repealed tomorrow, it would not make murder any more acceptable
  • The framework of love that underpins our Christian faith calls us individually and as a society to be reconciled with God
    • This isn’t just for law breaking
    • but rather for failing to grasp the call of the Gospel
    • for putting ourselves before others
    • for placing others on the edge of our concern
  • May our ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’, when we embrace the new law of Christ and may that be a wholehearted ‘yes’ to God.
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