Scripture for this Sunday: Deuteronomy 30.15–20; Psalm 119.1–8; 1 Corinthians 3.1–9; Matthew 5.21–37
Jesus challenged his disciples to be seen to be trustworthy and straightforward so that a simple “yes,” or “no” would suffice to express themselves. He encouraged them to be straightforward in other ways, too – especially towards themselves, being honest with themselves about masked inner feelings. “Sins of the heart,” we have come to call them: those little foibles that cause us to look at one another with some sort of impurity in our heart, whether it be resentment, or anger, or lust.
Jesus warned his followers (and us) that God sees what is in the heart, and what is in the heart is at risk of becoming active behaviour, under conditions of stress, or crisis, for example. In some ways, he anticipated some aspects of Freudian psychology – the “Freudian slip,” as it is known, is a manifestation of inner feelings.
Jesus draws us into the Law of Moses, largely because it was intended to be a framework that guided both action and emotion to become first a habit and then an intrinsic part of our relationships with God and with one another – a way of choosing life over the consequences of failing to follow God’s will – God’s caring and compassionate desire for us as individuals and as a community.
Jesus knew that violence in the heart or mind eventually becomes channelled into violent behaviour; so if anger and conflict are what lead to violence, they must be addressed first. This is why reconciliation is imbedded into the life and worship of the church – why we pass the peace before receiving communion.
The apostle Paul was painfully familiar with the consequences of division and conflict, and wisely counselled the Christians in Corinth not to seek identity through human allegiance, but to be united in allegiance to Christ. Paul was trying to follow the example of Jesus, who wanted his followers to be seen to be honest through simplicity, not in need of oaths or exclamations to be believed, but to be known as people whose “yes” meant yes and whose “no” meant no. To do that, our outward appearance must match our inner nature, and vice versa. No more, no less.