Epiphany 6A: Collapsing the Boundaries Between Heaven and Earth

… these verses collapse the distance between heaven and earth, by showing that we cannot care for God without caring for our fellow human beings.


For the 6th Sunday of Epiphany, Adam and Lindsey read Matthew 5:21-37. “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” Not too many people argue for a literalist interpretation of that verse!

Yet it would be wonderful if more people could take that verse seriously, if not literally. Because that verse, and this whole passage, is about taking responsibility for ourselves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the onus for preventing exploitation and abuse fell on the people tempted by lust and not on those objectified by their temptation? If instead of critiquing the way people (almost always women) dress, we asked people to take responsibility for the lust in their own hearts?

Actually, it would be best if we recognized everyone’s agency, women’s as well as men’s. This passage doesn’t acknowledge a woman’s ability to lust, and admonishes against divorce by claiming that it brings guilt upon women. There may have been ways in which the flawed male brain of Matthew misunderstood and misreported the words of Jesus, and there are definitely ways in which the patriarchal culture in Jesus’ day shape these verses even as Jesus subverts that culture.

And these verses are very subversive, challenging our sensibilities about God, humanity, and morality.

Jesus himself doesn’t live into his warnings against anger literally – he gets angry quite a bit, and uses harsher language than “fool.” But he shows us how to be angry without being violent, and warns us where anger can lead, where lust can lead, where seeing ourselves apart from others can lead. He shows us a different path out of anger or lust, by acknowledging responsibility for ourselves while caring for the welfare of others. That’s why he calls on us to reconcile with those who have something against us. And while we shouldn’t take calls for self-mutilation literally, we should be warned about what is happening to our own souls when we objectify others – whether in lust or greed or anger or pride.

Ultimately, these verses collapse the distance between heaven and earth, by showing that we cannot care for God without caring for our fellow human beings.

The Olive

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