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Five Ways Into Sunday’s Scripture: All About Relationships

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

Matthew 5:21–37

The Gospel offers us a whopper this week with Jesus’ teaching on tough subjects: murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths. Yikes! And with admonitions against anger, lust, and swearing, he seems to make the teaching even harder to follow.

In this passage, Jesus is talking about Jewish law (see Deuteronomy and Exodus), and some commentators say that he is extending or radicalizing the law. But just before this passage, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). So, what is he up to? 

We may want to view this teaching as going deep into the law and what is required for building a healthy and faithful community. As my friend Joey always says, “It is all about relationships.”

We may want to view this teaching as going deep into the law and what is required for building a healthy and faithful community.

Anger with another can easily accelerate into actions that not only damage the people involved but all those around them. We only need to look at the political discourse in this country to see this at work. Lust very often is an objectification of another person that shoves aside any regard for the web of relationships that keeps a community whole. Divorce in first century Palestine could be devastating to the wife and children, leaving them homeless and in poverty. Again, tearing apart the social fabric of society and the wellbeing of all. Swearing falsely damages a person’s integrity. What a gift it would be to be grounded and centered enough to let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No.”

When it comes to our sins, Jesus isn’t letting us off the hook. He reminds us that our actions are not all about us but have an impact on our community. This is the antithesis of American individualism. We live in a world that is filled with conflict and we all fall short of loving God, ourselves, and our neighbor. Jesus reminds us this is serious work and we need to make it a priority every day. 

—Ruth Frey

In this essay, the Rev. Dr. Randy Harris notes this teaching is “about protecting the relationships that make us more fully human.”

Debie Thomas asks, “What would it be like if the children of God helped each other to succeed in all the ways Jesus’ sermon describes? Imagine what that community would look like!

This passage is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Visual Commentary on Scripture offers three views of the setting.

How do we manage to do what Jesus instructs? Perhaps this poem, “Let Your God Love You” by Edwina Gateley, offers a starting point.

This is a difficult passage, so let’s remember we are always grounded in God’s grace. Here is the Harlem Gospel Choir to remind us.

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Coming Soon

This Saturday at 10:30am, join a special Eucharist commemorating Absalom Jones, abolitionist and the first African-American ordained as a priest in The Episcopal Church, at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and online. Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing, will preach.

This Sunday at 10am, the Discovery community continues an exploration of spiritual friendship as Mirabai Starr, teacher and author of Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, considers mysticism and the relationship between Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross.

This Sunday at 1pm, Trinity Talks: Art as a Medium for Change continues when artist and MacArthur “Genius” LaToya Ruby Frazier joins the Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas to discuss the transformative power of art.

Join a Discovery planning meeting Wednesday, February 15, at 6:30pm. This will be a wonderful time to catch up with each other, hear about the programs that have been life-giving for us this past year, and dream about next year’s offerings. For more information and to receive the Zoom invitation, email