6th Sunday after Epiphany

S. Epiphany 6.23 “Clarifications” Matt. 5:21-37

While the sermon on the mount is one of the most familiar sections of scripture, there are some conundrums in our verses today that need clarification. Not that the scriptures are in any way unclear, don’t misunderstand me! The holy scriptures are crystal clear. It is the human mind that is cloudy. We read the scriptures through the hermeneutic lens of a debased and barbaric culture (as Alasdair MacIntyre well showed in his classic “After Virtue”, which, if you haven’t read it, you really should. What are you doing that is more important? Take a break from Netflix, Hulu, HBO and read MacIntyre! It will clarify your thinking tremendously, along with reading Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” a nice companion volume which we’ll be studying Wed. nights after Lent).

The cloudy thinking of barbaric modernism is not just accidental either. The clear words of Jesus have been deliberately manipulated by “experts” who oppose the reign of Christ with that of “science” and “democracy”. So, with no further ado, away we go…

Jesus says you shall not murder, and he adds: “whoever his angry with his brother will be liable to judgment and whoever says “empty head” to his brother will liable to the hell of fire.” The clarification here is that this is almost certainly not all that Jesus said. The majority of ancient Greek manuscripts insert a very important clause after “whoever is angry with his brother”: without cause. Ooh. That changes things dramatically. Why haven’t we heard about this pastor?

Well, you have! All ancient translations, like Luther’s and the Authorized Version of King James, Erasmus’ Latin, etc.—all of them!—up to the RSV of 1952 used the Byzantine or majority text. But unbelieving German scholars in the late 19th century favored a small collection of 4th century Greek manuscripts that came from Alexandria, Egypt (Arius’ hometown 😉 that do not match up as well with the quotations from the early church fathers as those of the Byzantine texts do. They favored these Alexandrian texts simply because they were… different.

It’s only this small group of Alexandrian texts that omits the crucial phrase: “without cause”. Now, generally, you pays your money and takes your choice on text questions like this (which are rarely as consequential as this one). But, in this case, omitting the phrase would make Jesus a lawbreaker. In Mark 3:5 we’re told the Lord entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and found a man with a withered hand; and they watched him to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath so they might accuse him. But the Lord asked if it is lawful to do good or do harm, on the Sabbath?

And they just glared at him silently because they were opposed to Jesus doing good anytime or anywhere. And it says clearly: “And [Jesus] looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…” If being angry with your brother for any reason makes you liable to judgment, then Jesus broke his own law—which of course he never does! Jesus is angry—a lot, by the way!—with the people, just as he was angry every day with the old testament Israelites and killed 605,000 of them in the desert on the way to the promised land of Canaan in Exodus.(!)

Murder, BTW, is unjustified killing—(read the OT. Lotta killin’ in that one). And the Byzantine text is certainly correct here that Jesus says “if you are angry with your brother without cause you are liable to judgment”. Living in a sinful world (believe me!) there is ample cause for being angry with our brothers. Just go to pastor’s conferences with me and you will see this is most certainly true.

Same, by the way, with calling “empty head” or “fool”. If there is no just cause, if he’s not really an idiot, then you’re liable to judgment (for lying 😉 when you call him that. But if the shoe fits… 😉

Aren’t the scriptures more fun when they aren’t clouded with puritanical nonsense? We’re just getting started…

The next verses say: if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This passage has been applied to holy communion by the pietists (an heretical movement that urges faith in our faithfulness instead of faith in Christ). So, I was taught, growing up, that if we were at odds with our brothers or sisters we couldn’t take communion until we’d hugged and made up.

This is wrong, and dangerously so. Because it makes admission to the Lord’s Table contingent on our warm hearts and good behavior. It turns Christ’s Gospel gift into a law. It destroys the sacrament and the whole comfort and purpose of it! And it conflicts with holy scriptures and our Lutheran confessions which clearly say the only thing that makes one worthy and well prepared to come to the Lord’s Table is… faith in Christ Jesus!

“But, Pastor! Jesus says if you bring your gift to the altar when you have something against your brother you have to reconcile!” Well, you’re not bringing a gift to the altar when you come to Holy Communion! (which btw, technically, is not celebrated at an altar but around a table because there’s no sacrifice here, and there are no priests—(except Jesus 😉 who’s giving the Holy Supper of his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins so we may commune joyfully and eternally with him and his holy church!.

When you come to the Lord’s table, you’re coming as a poor, miserable sinner—starving to death and hungry for the Bread of Life. You come empty-handed, only to receive Christ’s gifts. So; these words of the Lord don’t apply at all to the Lord’s Supper and since we don’t have any sacrifices to offer anymore (since Jesus has done that once and for all on Golgotha) I can’t think of any situation in the New Testament church where these words would apply. 😉

Coming to terms quickly with adversaries and avoiding courts that are controlled largely by enemies of the Gospel is just common sense. No conundrums here. But the part about marriage and divorce has been thoroughly twisted by the Roman Church which insists there is an absolute prohibition on divorce and remarriage and on communing the divorced or remarried.

Rome is being her usual legalistic, anti-christian, heretical, totalitarian self here! Jesus is clear that divorce is not God’s ideal, and that even for πορνεια (grievous sin that isn’t just sexual immorality but abuse and abandonment as well) forgiveness is always a great option! But sometimes, the marriage is irretrievably broken; and, in that case, divorce is a regrettable necessity. Basically, if you’re going to murder—seriously harm your spouse because of πορνεια evil he did to you, divorce is much less bad than murder, and is forgiven fully by Christ like any other sin and certainly doesn’t forfeit your place at his table!

Rome is wrong about absolutely prohibiting divorce, as Paul makes clear in I Corinthians 7 when he says: if the unbelieving spouse of a Christian separates from him/her (apparently on account of the Faith) then the believer is not bound—but would be free to remarry.

Finally, swearing: avoid it, if possible! Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. But this refers to voluntary oaths. If we are obliged to swear by courts, then we do not break any commands by sincere swearing.

Jesus says elsewhere that the Sabbath law was made for man, not man for the Sabbath law. It shows us the good way! But first and foremost: it shows our sin and how far we have all strayed. But it does this so we will rush to Christ’s table, eat the bread of heaven, find forgiveness and the good life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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