RCL A Epiphany 6
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Saint Matthew 5:21-37

Now for the third week in a row, we have for the Gospel a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. I have said previously that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ main teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God and that buying in to him represents a greater commitment, a higher cost, than buying in to John the Baptist. And all those things are here again.

Two main points are to be made. One: Jesus sets a higher standard for our conduct of our lives than does the law. We are liable for the anger that can lead to murder. We are liable for the desire that can lead to adultery. We are liable for taking an oath that can lead to an oath we do not keep. You see what Jesus is teaching. We are liable for a disposition as well as the crime that can result from it. The bar for us is much higher than the bar set by the law.

And the second point involves the dangers of hell and of being thrown into its fires. The “hell” he mentions is Gehenna, the name for the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem’s walls whose fires never went out. It is the place during the kings of Israel where the idolaters made sacrifices of children. They preferred idols to God. They preferred death to life. In every way they grabbed the wrong end of the stick. Jesus recommends in the strongest terms not to trash our lives by not living abundantly and generously, and not to turn ourselves into refuse by accepting the low-ball standards of the law. We are to live abundantly and generously caring for those less fortunate and helping the weak.

There always is something better to do than just stay out of trouble. We are to choose life and prosperity not death and adversity as we are told in the First Lesson.[1] What that Lesson and Jesus’ sayings in the Gospel make so clear is what we so often turn from accepting. And that is this. We are free to make whatever choices we want to make. We are free to choose to do the right things, and we are free to use any means at our disposal to suck on death in one form or another.

The better choice, of course, is to follow Jesus, as hard as the buy in is. For at bottom, when all is said and done, our service to him is our perfect freedom. And it is in our death to ourselves that we live in him. He offers us freedom and life. We have only to choose to take them and to live that abundant life that he died to give us. We have, after all, to think long-term. We think of eternity not the weekend or the next few years. Ours is a baptism into his death and life which never ends.

[1] Deuteronomy 30:15.