But I say to You... Addiction Recovery Series: Step 2 “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
“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 someone, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult someone, 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 someone has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to them, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with them, 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 person with lust has already committed adultery with them in their 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 God's footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of God. 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.
Sermon on the Mount, Part 3
Some say this passage is one of the most daunting in all of Scripture. If this is what it means to be OK with God, then folks, we are all in trouble. I don't know anyone, or OF anyone, who can live up to those standards set by Jesus. Even Mother Teresa, the saintliest of the saints, admitted in her journals to succumbing to anger, and judging, and all sorts of things that would, according to the above, land her in the fires of hell. In the words of the disciples, "who then can be saved?"
And it's more than just that- especially for those of us with addictions. Because step 2 says that we "have come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity,' and while that's a very nice thought, and consciously I might know that it's God who is that power, and as a Christian, it's Christ who has that power... I'm not sure this description of the following God's law is one i could live up to- actually, I am not sure I WANT to live up to it. I don't know if I want to believe in a God who is going to potentially throw me into hell when I mess up...
None of that even remotely sounds like the God I know- the God of love- the God of compassion and healing- the God of forgiveness and second chances- the God who loves us just the way we are, no matter what! What could Jesus have meant by giving all of these... well... threats, to the people?
Jesus was reinterpreting the Jewish law for the people. He was giving them a new way of seeing, and a way to break free of the things that we keeping them from succeeding as a people. So instead of looking at the things in this passage as threats, or a deepening of the restrictions, lets try to see them as a way out. (Stay with me) Let's imagine that every time Jesus says, "but I say to you,' that he is actually saying, 'but the real problem is...' (1)
“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 someone, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult someone, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
Here Jesus repeats the law- don't murder- if you do, you will be judged. So to the people, anything short of the act of murder was OK. Jesus was telling them, yes, don't murder, but the real problem is anger. Murder might a symptom of your anger, but all anger is violence- God hates violence. You allow yourselves to become angry-and that anger festers- and it puts you in a prison of sorts and keeps you in torment. This is not God's way.
In addiction recovery we say "Don't let yourselves get hungry, angry, lonely or tired- H.A.L.T." They are triggers that may cause us to drink or eat or smoke or whatever addictions we struggle with. Jesus is saying the same thing- when you allow yourselves to let anger swallow you, just because you've stopped short of picking up a tool of death, the anger is the same. And it will put you in a place of hell.
Oh- lets talk about hell for a moment the way it is translated here. This is not a place that we may or may not end up in the afterlife. "Hell" as spoken by Jesus is a physical place- "... Hell is not the word that Jesus uses, in the first place. And it’s more than just a matter of differing languages. What we translate as hell is the word Gehenna, which was the name of a valley south of Jerusalem. Why would Jesus use that name? ... Gehenna was famous — or infamous — as the ancient place of child sacrifice. That’s right, we’re talking about the religious practice of killing a child on an altar. "(2)
So when Jesus used the word we translate as hell, he was talking about a place that condoned violence to appease the Gods- yes, Gods. Jesus, in choosing the word Gehenna- was in essence saying, 'look, if you resort to violence, you are reverting to a time when people thought killing children and cutting off hands and limbs as justice was OK! But again, violence is never OK. Go reconcile early- sweat the small stuff- nip it in the bud- because if you don't it will be your undoing.'
The same is true for the other interpretations of the law Jesus uses here: Don't commit adultery- that's the simple version of the law. So in the old way, as long as I don't sleep with another person outside of my marriage, I'm pretty much OK. Jesus says, But I say to you, or the real problem is, that we see each other as objects, as things for our own consumption and use. Adultery may be a symptom, but the deeper issue is that an adulterer has stopped seeing other's value. Any time we treat one another as less than, it's violence in God's eyes- it binds us to our own ego, judgmental-ism, and hate- we end up back in Gehenna.
Same thing with Divorce- this passage has been used to bash people over the head for years, but in the time of Jesus, divorce was solely a man's option. One day he could wake up, decide he didn't like the color of his wife's hair, and divorce her. It was an act of violence against women, as they were not free to remarry, would have no means of support, and would be often cast outside the community. Many times it meant death to a woman. And it was a way for men to legally commit adultery. Jesus is going a level deeper- and naming the violence.
The teaching image he uses for getting out of these things is "if you hand causes you to sin, cut it off, or if your eye- pluck it out.' In other words, get rid of the things that are tripping you up. Because truly, leaving them in your life leaves you in prison and torment.
Let's apply all of this to addiction recovery... just as murder and divorce and adultery are the symptoms of deeper issues, and come from some form of violence, so is our addiction. The hell in which we find ourselves when we are ready to admit (step 1) our lives have become unmanageable, is a violent place. Because our drinking or drugging or eating or shopping doesn't just have an effect on us- we don't just do harm to ourselves. But I will add here, that even if we ONLY inflicted violence on ourselves, that is still not OK with God. Each person, each creature, each part of God's creation, is valuable and should be treated with delicate respect and care. (Even you!)
This is God's way. This is the God that I can come to believe in as the power to restore me to sanity, Because this God understands what's going on inside me. This God will call me on my stuff, name it for what it is, and accept and love me anyway- even if I never take another step- even if I put myself in the torments of hell and never go beyond today- God loves me anyway. But most importantly, this God has a plan- a way out, a plan of transformation. Because this God desires the best for me- for all of us- to grow into more than we are right now- to live out the very best versions of ourselves- to live in to all that God has designed us to be.
(1) Richard Rohr, Sermon on the Mount (2) Paul Nuechterlein, Sermon, Epiphany 6Ahttp://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-a/epiphany6a_2014_ser/