SERMON IN CR CHURCH
SUNDAY 9 FEB 2014 4TH SUNDAY BEFORE LENT
ISAIAH 58:1-12. PS
112. 1 COR 2. MATTHEW 5:13-20
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 58, which we heard at Mattins, begins: SHOUT OUT, DON’T HOLD BACK; LIFT UP YOUR VOICE LIKE A TRUMPET. Another translation, consistently more earthy, says: raise your voice like a ram’s horn. You can’t imagine anything more raucous, more blaring, than that. In Matthew 12 Jesus is going to quote a different prophecy, from Isaiah 42, “He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets”. Today’s Gospel spells out exactly just how Jesus was a true revolutionary and, like all true revolutionaries, was a quiet one. It’s the quiet ones of whom we need to be afraid, because they’re the ones who really challenge us. Yes, challenging not just to the people who heard Him with their own ears, who touched Him with their own hands but challenging us too, 2000 years of Christian teaching later, the Word of Life.
It’s so tempting to
polarise Jesus’ teaching: on the one hand He teaches nothing that isn’t
typical of the Judaism of his day. A great Jewish rabbi, He’s simply
fulfilling God’s promises to
However, note the context
of today’s Gospel reading. The opening words have been put there by the
compilers of the Lectionary. They aren’t there at all at Matt 13: 20 when
today’s reading begins. No, Chapter 13 starts: Jesus went up on the mountain
and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to teach them:
So the first 12 words of today’s Gospel are in fact the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and today’s Gospel, 20 verses later, is a sort of reflection on the new commandments - the Beatitudes - that Jesus, the new Moses, has just given his 12 disciples, who will sit down and judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel, at the last day.
A way of looking at Jesus’ ministry is to think of the Three Persons sitting down together looking at the world and seeing what a mess it’s in. One of Them says, “We’ve tried sending great leaders, Moses, Joshua, all those amazing prophets, giving them lots of laws, regulations and wonderful speeches to get them on the right track but it doesn’t seem to be working. They always seem to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. The only way is ... to SHOW them.” “Yes, I’ll go, says the Son”. "What exactly will you show them then?". “I’ll show them how to love”. The other Two giggle and dig each other in the ribs: “They know plenty about that, don’t they?”. “Don’t be so disgusting! Isn’t real love’s a bit more than that?”. "So what is it then?" “If I have to, it means giving my life away, however horribly, for their sake. No one will believe God really loves them, unless one of us dies for them. It had better be me. Then, maybe, they’ll know the truth, that God is Love, nothing less, nothing more. No one has ever seen God but anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father”.
It looks as though Matthew
is giving the Beatitudes - and today’s reading which follows - the most
authoritative setting he can: Jesus is MORE than Moses, his teaching is MORE
than Torah, more than the whole Old Testament.
Antony Grant CR