The first Gospel begins with a genealogy of Jesus and then quickly moves on to the infancy narratives involving magi from the East coming to visit the new King of kings. This news enrages the jealous King Herod, so the Holy Family flees to Egypt.
Skipping ahead a few decades, Jesus goes to the Jordan River to receive a baptism from his cousin John and the blessing of God. From there, Jesus goes into the desert for forty days to prepare for his public ministry. When he returns from his time of retreat, Jesus begins calling his disciples.
All of this, from Jesus’ birth to his baptism, from his time in the desert to the gathering of the first disciples, seems to be leading to this moment where Jesus preaches to the multitudes in what becomes known as the Sermon on the Mount. Here is the core, the heart of the good news. Jesus begins with the Beatitudes and teaches about the Law before discussing anger, adultery, divorce, and oaths.
Religiosity can often be heady or legalistic. This legalism can lead us to (or sometimes can even be motivated by) the search for loopholes. That is to say, we might find ourselves asking: If the commandment only restricts or prohibits a certain activity, then is there a way around it?
But here in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus proposes a deeper, more heartfelt spirituality. It is a faith that isn’t looking to get away with something or to avoid the legalism of sinning. Jesus’ teaching means we aren’t trying to game the system or get one over on God. Instead, we are invited to look beyond particular actions to the heart of each commandment. What is the attitude, the mind-set at the core of our faith? Jesus calls us to integrity between our mind and heart.
Divine Spirit, you are the source of all goodness. Help me to align my attitude to the source of all love. Guide me to discover the shadow places of my heart and offer them up to you for illumination and healing. Amen.
This week we continue to explore the importance of Christian morality. We do not earn God’s grace by our actions; rather, our obedience is a response to God’s grace. In Deuteronomy, we read that the choice of life will bring prosperity and is the proper response from a heart of gratitude. The psalmist echoes this sentiment, for blessed are those who follow the Lord not just with words but also with actions. The Corinthians have not understood this so they continue to act like those in the world around them, living by the flesh instead of by the Spirit. Jesus pushes us even further. God sees not only what we do on the outside but who we are on the inside. A true life of obedience begins on the inside and flows outward.
Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20. When have you experienced the choice God sets before us of life or death, prosperity or adversity, blessings or curses? How have you discerned how to obey God?
Read Psalm 119:1-8. How does following God’s commandments bring you joy?
Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. Consider the forms of love Paul and Saint Valentine display in their letters. What types of love help you serve God, who gives growth?
Read Matthew 5:21-37. When have you experienced legalistic interpretations of scripture? How do you get to the heart of scripture?
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