Too much said

Reconciliation: Coventry Cathedral

Reconciliation: Coventry Cathedral

You may have heard that it was said:  An eye for and eye makes the whole world blind.  Gandhi had a particular way of distilling the wisdom of not just one set of religious teachings.  It is said that he saw himself as Hindu and Muslim and Christian.  This often angers people, mostly, I think, because they don’t understand it.  He is saying, I think, that no one person owns truth, goodness or love.  In order to find this out we must begin to live it in humility.  In this particular passage from Matthew (5: 21-37) after the well known part of the sermon on the mount Jesus continues to teach with something that is often overlooked and relegated to the occasional Sunday reading that doesn’t often get heard except when Easter is late in the year and we need to fill in time in the lectionary after Candlemas.  Jesus is seen to be teaching in a traditional Rabbinical style.  Well, at least he begins in that way.  As usual he doesn’t play by the same rules as everyone else.  So much for the call to obedience.  We can’t expect Jesus to do as he might be expected.  When the formula You have heard it said was used, it would be normal to expand upon the law with traditional wisdom of the age encouraging those who heard it to keep the law.  But Jesus prefers to do something different.  Jesus prefers to interpret the law again not for the benefit of a particular group, but for the benefit of all in the light of what he sees, and the actions of those around him.  Don’t stick to the letter of the law, stick to the spirit of it instead in terms of compassion and mercy and humility.  So when you have heard that it was said…  Jesus says don’t stop with what you are duty bound to do – go on and walk another mile.  (as this passage continues to say if we read on)  That too broke the rules.  The rules of engagement between Roman soldiers and the people was that they could command a civilian to carry their pack for one mile.  Jesus says no.  Carry it for two.  In walking further they will be in your debt and will see that you do not hold the law against them.  You are duty bound to carry it for one, but the second you carry it in love.  If however you throw down their pack after the one mile, they will see that you hate them as they expected and begrudge their presence.  Walk the second mile and you may begin to understand each other.  It is the beginning of reconciliation.  Jesus shows that following the letter of the law does not honour the spirit in which it was intended.  Jesus shows up the trap in which we find ourselves and offers a transformative solution.  Conventional wisdom says something simple, a teaching like those contained here.  Relatively straight forward.  However Jesus suggests that it is possible to get caught in the position where, though you have kept the letter of the law you are still constrained by what led you to that position.  Then Jesus offers a transforming initiative, he offers a way out.  Don’t let the feelings which lead you to that position build up.  Instead, be reconciled and do it immediately.  Recognise and own your feelings for what they are and deal with them straight away.
Therefore paraphrase Jesus:  It is said, don’t murder; but I say: don’t let your feelings take you to that place – deal with them and be reconciled.
It is said, don’t commit adultery; but I say: don’t live in a fantasy, it ruins our relationships. Live in the real world.
It is said, divorce is just a piece of paper; but I say: Life is not a game.   Things become broken, recognise the reasons for that and own up to any mistakes we have made.  Treat everyone in mutuality and with kindness.  Every human should be treated with equity and dignity no matter what.
It is said, don’t swear falsely… but I say: don’t let language become an outlet for negative desire and anger.  Use words properly for the use they were intended.  Always speak truth.
In the film Gandhi a Hindu fighter tells Gandhi his story.  He has murdered a Muslim child as a revenge killing for the murder of his own son and says that he is going to hell.  Gandhi suggests to him that there is a way out of hell.  He tells the Hindu man to take a Muslim boy and raise him as his own.  But to be sure that he, a Hindu, raise the boy as a Muslim.  No-one said reconciliation was easy.  If we allow ourselves to lose the false pride of truth, rights and simple morality we can begin to live in mutuality and with kindness towards all, no matter who they are or where they are from.