Next Sunday will be the First Sunday in Lent and the lectionary schedule calls our attention to the following texts to be read and pondered: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11.
Lent, which means Spring or the lengthening of days toward the Easter dawn, is a wonderful, awesome and powerful period of time. It is new opportunity to scale the agonizing depths of the human predicament in order to realize the all-embracing power of release, relief, rest, redemption and resurrection that are guaranteed to us from God. The deeper the predicament is, the more powerful will be the redemption. Don’t ignore the malady; confess the problem in order to be grasped by the corrective surgery of the astonishing love of God. The Old Testament lesson from Genesis teaches us the universal presence and seriousness of sin based upon the creation of God and the Fall from grace. It also demonstrates that even when we fall from grace, we have not been abandoned by the same grace that we rejected, offended or ignored. Psalm 32 is a thanksgiving song by a person who confessed having sinned and experienced a redemptive gift from God of forgiveness and healing. Redemption follows realism, humility and confession. Romans 5 teaches us that redemption through Christ is broader, deeper, richer and stronger than catastrophe through Adam. Matthew tells the story of the temptations of Christ. It is only when we face the reality of temptation that we can rejoice in deliverance from temptation.
Today we face the seemingly impossible stipulations of Christ regarding the most personal and private details of human life. Christians have wrestled with these issues for centuries and different churches have taught different things:
1) Don’t kill. Don’t even get angry. Matthew 5:22-26
2) Don’t commit adultery. Don’t even look with lust upon another human being. Matthew 5:27-30
3) Don’t divorce with reasonable cause. Don’t divorce at all. Matthew 5:31,32
4) Don’t swear without performing your oath. Don’t swear at all. Matthew 5:33-37
5) Offer no retaliation or resistance to evil. Matthew 5:38-42
6) Love your enemies, competitors and detractors. Matthew 5:43-48.
To fulfill the law of Christ is not difficult. It is as easy as salt being tangy and light being illumination. Light cannot help being an illumination. Salt cannot help being a tangy taste that adds zest to food. A Christian cannot help but being so full of the love of God that such love must inevitably penetrate all personal, private and public reality. The law is predicated upon the love that God continues to pour in our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit which enables us to act appropriately in all situations.
Even so, the Holy Spirit is also teacher, counselor and provoker of thought. The Holy Ghost does not demand that we do the unreasonable, irrational, absurd or impossible. The Holy Spirit will guide us to interpret these laws correctly and to apply them appropriately in our own times and situations. Christianity is realism and not absurdity. So one must put certain tests upon one’s interpretations of these laws: (A) Is the new law consistent with the intention of the old law, so that the old can be fulfilled and not trashed? (B) Is the new law in agreement with the other teachings and practices of the New Testament? (C) Is the new law consistent both with the other teachings and actions of Christ? (D) Is the new law consistent both with Matthew’s meaning and your particular situation? Certainly Christ does not teach us to suppress righteous indignation and opposition to evil. Jesus was not too meek to drive the money-changers out of the temple. There is a vast difference between righteous indignation and intolerance and irrational, instinctive and impulsive anger. Some people stay ‘mad’.
Certainly Christ does not deny or denounce the natural excitement that arises when opposites attract; but Christ does teach us not to yield to the temptation of immediate gratification of momentary impulses. Don’t rain every time you get cloudy. Ask yourself: Is this the right person? Is this the right time? Are these the right circumstances? Am I treating the other person as a child of God or as a ‘thing’ to gratify my immediate lusts, passions and impulses?
Certainly Christ is not saying that divorce is never appropriate or allowable, nevertheless, the covenant of marriage is sacred, serious and spiritually binding. It is a triangle between Christ, husband and wife. If both maintain their relationship to Christ, it will not be impossible for them to maintain their relationship to each other; but if in either partner Christ has been
replaced by dope, violence, egoism or some other ‘god’, the situation will be untenable. God does not require us to stay in any relationship where the sacredness of our personhood is not honored, respected and affirmed. Battered women are not required to stay in abusive relationships. Helpless husbands against the seriously pathological and absurd condition of an intractable partner are not required to suffer in endless torment.
Don’t retaliate; but don’t make yourself anybody’s door mat. Don’t hate your enemy; but don’t forget to love with both eyes open upon reality. Spiritualism is the ultimate realism, truth and common sense.
C. G. A.