M. Daniel Carroll R. (who teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College) asks these questions: “From what kind of people does God receive praise? Who qualifies to come into God’s presence and worship? Do attitudes and actions toward others matter?...
It is often said that true worship comes from the heart. That is true as far as it goes-but these passages teach us that worship is very much a matter of our hands and feet, too. The arena that molds us into a people fit for worship is the public square.”
Daniel notes that when the law is mentioned in a passage, Christians tend to recoil. Jesus told us the law was done, right? But, last week, the Gospel reading quoted Jesus as saying not one stroke of the law would be altered by him.
The Mosaic law covered every aspect of life: animal husbandry, housekeeping, interpersonal relationships, what to eat and drink, property rights, clothing, prayer, and crop farming. Part of those interpersonal relationships involved caring for marginalized people: widows, orphans, the poor and foreigners. Following God’s law meant taking God’s social concerns as your own.
As The Message translates Paul’s writing: “But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. … As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a bab[y]…, content only when everything’s going your way?” Then he reminds them that he, Paul, is a servant on assignment from God and whatever growth the Corinthians have had has been God’s doing. The work that Paul did is only worth it because God is at the center of it.
Then we have Jesus talking about the law and its importance but Jesus is talking about not just external actions but the thoughts we have--the very state of our souls. As Daniel writes, “Jesus reminds us these laws were not only about external actions. God looks much deeper: Respect for others is a window into the heart. This is serious business. These passages in Matthew warn against taking God’s social demands lightly.”
In The Message Jesus says, “Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” Jesus goes on to say that we shouldn’t try to worship or offer anything to God if we aren’t in good relationship with other people. The phrase, “make things right” appears a few times in the passage.
Jesus even addresses lust: “Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices-they also corrupt.
Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is.” Rather than practice lust, go blind. Rather than raise a hand in anger, go without the hand. He even states that just because divorce is legal doesn’t mean it is righteous when women are left with no means of support. “You can’t use legal cover to mask moral failure.”
I’m thinking the next paragraph is for those of us who use social media. “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions: you only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”
If we take God’s social demands lightly, maybe we haven’t considered that legislation for the needy actually matters to God. The protection of the poor and immigrants pleases God. The Mosaic laws included compassion for the needy and our laws should do this, too. As Daniel notes, “Our efforts to make our nation’s laws more just…reveal our obedience and are one way God is at work today.” Or as Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow.”
The old laws were not just about outdated rituals and farming practices. Much of the law was about compassion for the other. God wants to be worshipped by compassionate people who are willing to stand against the powers that would mow over the poor and starve them out so they just go away. We must be the people who make things right-in our personal relationships and in our actions in the public square.