12 Feb 2017
“‘But I say to you …,’ ‘But I say to you …,’ ‘But I say to you …,’ ‘But I say to you …,’” (Matt 5: 22, 28,32, 34) In the name …
Today’s Gospel reading is longer than usual and includes the phrase ‘But I say to you …,’ four times, and there are still two more to come next Sunday. Its repetition is for a purpose. It’s driving a point home. We continue to read from the Sermon on the Mount, and today we encounter something extremely profound in the birth and continuation of Christianity. Jesus is confronting the people on that mountain, and through them us still today, with the fundamental challenge of trusting in Him, of believing in Him. Now this isn’t the cute kind of trusting in Him like during an unbelievable Super Bowl game. It’s not like those passionate pleas as the Patriots got closer and closer to tying the game that looked like it was already over during the first three quarters. It’s not like those promises to Jesus as overtime began that we would go to church if Jesus would just let the Patriots win this one.
On the back of this morning’s song sheet are two front covers from the same day’s Boston Globe. The one that cries “A Bitter End” was from the printed edition down in Florida where they had to go to press earlier. A different outcome than loss just didn’t seem possible. The other one screams “Win for the Ages” and shows Brady holding up the Super Bowl trophy. The day after the game I received an emailed picture of Jesus carrying a baby lamb over His shoulders, and Jesus looked remarkably like Tom Brady. It takes a certain amount of faith to pray to Jesus in these kinds of dire situations of almost certain defeat. I know these games can be really meaningful to a lot of people. I don’t think God works this way, but it sure looks like something happened toward the end of that game. Either one of those front pages could have been true, but somehow, maybe prayer, the Patriots got their fifth ring.
But as world-shaking as that was, Jesus’ ‘But I say to you …,’ defines our souls and our very relationship with God. Jesus begins today by recognizing the sacred importance of everything in the faith that came before Him. “‘I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets,’” He says. But then He goes on to change them, and the only authority by which He does so is the authority of His own person: ‘But I say to you …,’. Think about what this means. There is the established tradition that defined most every aspect of Jesus’ generation from things as broad-reaching as murder, to as intimate as marriage, and to as private as the value of our word, our honour. This tradition was accepted, practiced and reverenced as from God. And then, at the beginning of His ministry, this fellow from Galilee, this carpenter’s son, starts to preach: ‘But I say to you …,’. I cannot overemphasize how astounding this must have been and still remains. He wasn’t confronting people with a choice of faith that would determine a football game between the Falcons and the Patriots. Jesus was confronting people with how they saw God, and if they could see God in this carpenter’s son.
It is only the ones who could hear and accept the voice of God in Jesus who would then become Christians. It was a commitment to His person. Only those who somehow developed a direct connection with Jesus as He spoke, who felt the presence of God when He was near, who felt somehow different around Him, who could then accept His authority to say ‘But I say to you …,’. Jesus doesn’t point to Scripture, to the Temple, to its priests, to tradition, to anything else besides Himself as the justification for His ‘But I say to you …,’. And this is something we can never forget as Christians, even now 2,000 years later. Bp. Hodur wrote that church alone can’t save us. I’ve been writing my newsletter articles to try and show that the Bible needs to be interpreted to be understood, that it is not the unerring, literal word of God. The life of our souls are based on our continuing relationship with Jesus.
This is exactly what Paul is talking about in his letter to the church in the city of Corinth. These are people who had never met Jesus in person, and yet Paul is still talking about faith as a Christian’s relationship with Him. You know, it wasn’t expected, natural or easy for those people at the Sermon on the Mount to accept the authority of this wandering preacher from Galilee just because they saw Him in person. Seeing Jesus didn’t make it automatic that they would accept His audacious proposals simply because He said ‘But I say to you …,’. So the people in Corinth are at no disadvantage. Their willingness to believe when Jesus says ‘But I say to you …,’ is of the same nature as the ones listening at the Sermon on the Mount. They both have to willingly be open to Jesus; they have to give Him the chance to speak to them; and they have to actively follow Him. And that means we’re not different
All of this is what Paul today calls “God’s wisdom.” (1 Cor. 2:7) This isn’t a school wisdom. This is the wisdom of the Spirit. The Spirit, says Paul, “searches everything, even the depths of God.” The Spirit, in other words, is the unity of the Trinity, and the Spirit is what keeps Jesus and us connected. The Spirit is what allows faith to always be relationship. And since we don’t have the chance to stand on a mountainside with Jesus, it is the Spirit who helps us to feel near to Him and to believe when Jesus says ‘But I say to you …,’. Jesus is not a person who can be locked into a particular formula, institution or book. With Jesus there is always the possibility of surprise, and as believers it is up to us to build a relationship strong enough to hear and to listen when He still says ‘But I say to you …,’
Today is the First Sunday of Pre-Lent. This is the beginning of our remote preparations for Jesus’ death. We need to realize that Jesus died not only to fulfill our later theology of forgiveness of sins. This is the church looking back at the unspeakable scandal of the cross and seeking purpose. But Jesus was condemned to die because He was an affront to the ways of power, tradition, virtue and even the sacred. This means we have to look for Jesus in the now. What is His ‘But I say to you …,’ about today, to us? We’ll never know without giving Him the chance to speak to us and for us to listen. May these days leading up to the cross give us such an opportunity, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. +
Fr. Randy Calvo