THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
YEAR A – RCL
Living what amounts to a moral and ethical life is difficult in a world of blurred lines. The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, gives us a give us a clear, if simplified, means of direction. No murder, no lying, no swearing, no stealing, no adultery, no other Gods, no coveting, honor your parents, honor only the Lord your God, keep a holy Sabbath. All are good ways to ensure a society secure in order rather than chaos.
But what about the chaos that rules inside our hearts and minds? Inside most of us, at any given time, there is a raging torrent of emotions, including ill will, lust, envy, greed, anger and yes, even rage. How can we physically embody a “holy nation” when we may be nurturing evil in secret?
Jesus acknowledges this in Matthew 5 with a scathing lecture. In a series of six statements, beginning with “You have learned, but what I tell you,” Jesus summarizes the Ten Commandments and takes them from a list of elementary school rules to Master’s level psychology report. He tells the listening crowd that the true meaning of the Law is a much more radical look at love than it is an adherence to certain actions. It is not enough just to keep one’s emotions in check. Instead, one must look inside oneself, objectively appraise whatever morally destructive force is there, and then eradicate it. Only then can we attempt an honest, loving reconciliation with our fellow human beings. Only then can we enter into a true covenant relationship with our Creator. Actions may speak louder than words, but it’s what’s inside our hearts that’s important.
By the time Paul is writing his first epistle to the Corinthians, things don’t seem to have changed much. Once again, human nature struggles against divine direction, and Paul is frustrated at the divisions among the people. They are acting out of an elementary school mindset, and he desires them to “grow up” into mature believers. “Can you not see that while there is jealousy and strife among you, you are living on the purely human level of your lower nature? When one says, ‘I am Paul’s man,’ and another, ‘I am for Apollos,’ are you not all too human?” The word for being human that Paul uses here is peripateite (Gk), which means “walking around.” Paul sees the Corinthian believers as vagrant and wandering in their faith, skipping from one thing to another when they should be, with purpose, “peripateite wV to jvV ecete” walking while they have the light. (Jn. 12:35) They have no excuse for behaving like they have not heard the Gospel and as if they didn’t know any better because Paul has planted the seeds for a new life in Christ within them. The old Law has passed away in favor of a New Eden. The people, says Paul, are now God’s garden.
What would it take for us to become God’s garden? Jesus tells us plainly. A mature understanding of what divine love truly means. Divine love is built upon forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation and holiness. All of these are qualities that, if we incorporate them into our own psyche, will liberate us far more than the observance of any earthly laws can. Christ calls us into a new understanding of love that sets us free from our darker nature. We must cease to live in chaos and obey Jesus’ commands to live richly. It is not easy, but the choice is clear.
The Rev. Marci Pounders is Associate Rector at Ascension in Dallas.