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Trinity 6 – Matthew 5:20-26

by pastorjuhl ~ August 20th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Actions speak louder than words if you are a Pharisee. The Pharisees and Scribes strictly interpreted the fifth commandment. Their interpretation was so strict that no room was left for anything except the physical act of murder. Whoever murders will be liable to judgment.

There is nothing wrong with a strict interpretation of the Law. However, this strict interpretation of the Law has wriggle room. Jesus exposes the wriggle room in today’s Holy Gospel. Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.

Murder is more than the physical act of taking someone’s life. The explanation of the fifth commandment in Luther’s Small Catechism picks up on Jesus’ explanation in Matthew chapter five. “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”

Aha! Luther only speaks of physical harm and physical need. He holds to the Pharisaical interpretation of the Law. Or does he? Consider the hurt or harm caused by the tongue. Harmful words begin in the heart of a Christian, a heart blackened with sin. When you are not kindly disposed toward your neighbor, when you kill him not with kindness, but with rage, when you speak evil of your neighbor, when you fail to help him with your hands, your feet, or even your pocketbook, you are a murderer.

You are in the same boat with the so-called “honorable” world. The world wants to show kindness, tolerance, and love, but only on its terms. You have to earn or somehow deserve kindness. Otherwise, you are a target for murder, but don’t call it murder unless you actually pick up a weapon and harm someone. Call it something else, like “just desserts” or “karma” or “revenge”. Serve it cold with a side of smug self-righteousness and a super-sized portion of vindictiveness.

Listen again to Luther’s explanation of the fifth commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” Remember, God doesn’t need your love, but your neighbor does. When you love your neighbor, you love God. The King says to the sheep in Matthew chapter 25: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. When your tongue slashes your neighbor, when your hands remain in your pockets instead of reaching out to help him, not only do you murder your neighbor, but also you murder God.

Though infinitely offended by our sins, God has let go of His anger against us. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Our Father in heaven allowed His only-begotten Son to be murdered, to be betrayed by one of His own into the hands of men in order to be crucified. Jesus fulfills the Psalmist’s words. He is the Shepherd promised by God. He comes to save His people and bless His heritage. He blesses His heritage by carrying the sins of the world to Calvary, where He bleeds and dies for your sins.

Jesus Christ is the help and support of the world. He is the only hope for sinners. He sets the standard for love in His death and resurrection. This doesn’t mean that you have to do exactly as He does in order to accomplish salvation. Salvation is accomplished, finished, in Christ’s victory over death and hell for you. If He has treated you with His tender mercy in giving you forgiveness and life, how much more, then, you want to treat your neighbor with kindness and mercy.

If God gives you an office of judgment, then fulfill your office by judging. Mothers and fathers have a judging office. When children do something wrong, parents are to treat it not as a laughing matter or with indulgence. Parents are to reprimand and, without hesitation, punish. God commands it. If parents shirk their calling, then they are disobedient and act contrary to their position and command.

If God does not give you an office of judgment over your neighbor, then it is given to you to love, help, serve, and protect our neighbor, not merely with the tongue, but with all that is at your disposal. When [Jesus] was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him Who judges justly. God, as it were, throws us all together in this world not to use fists, attitude, and tongue to harm each other, but to help and serve one another as He helps and serves His children, giving them everything they need to support this body and life.

A baptized child of God walks in newness of life, as Saint Paul puts it in today’s Epistle. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Why would you want to murder your neighbor in actions or words or thoughts? You died with Christ. You are free from sin. You are raised a new creation. You live holy lives where God puts you in your station in life.

You will murder your neighbor today, tomorrow, and many times before next weekend. When you stumble and fall, acknowledge your sin. Own your sin, for you are by nature a sinner. As Psalm 31 says, In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in Your righteousness deliver me! Take refuge in the Lord, for He delights in His righteousness given to you that avails before Him.

            In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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