Build Bridges or Build Walls

In our first reading this morning from Ecclesiastics it is clear the message is about the choices that are available to us.

If you choose, you can keep the commandments and to act faithfully is a matter of your choice,

He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.

Before each person are life and death and whichever one chooses will be given

Is it so simple to make these choices?

In our gospel reading today, Jesus tells us the same thing but threw a curve ball into it, making it a little difficult.

These are the laws we all understand and know that were given to Moses by God.

One of the laws that Moses got from God was you shall not commit murder.

Here Jesus Christ is telling us today not to do any act that leads to murder.

  • Hating anyone or looking down, or looking at someone with disgust, thinking they are inferior to you is subject to judgment by God.
  • Acting in any form or manner to hurt someone is subject to judgment by God.
  • Any act towards anyone that is not from a loving place is subject to judgment by God.
  • Calling someone an idiot or a fool is not acceptable by Jesus Christ’s command.

Today, Jesus is addressing the real core of the problem with His teaching.

What was the first thought that led someone to commit murder? It is looking at someone and thinking they are unworthy, and they are less than them.

Jesus is telling us that our relationship with one another ought to be granted in something deeper than the law. It ought to be love, compassion, forgiveness, sensitivity, and empathy.

Jesus raised the bar. He is telling us that even when we fall short, we should still strive for the goal of loving others and correcting our behavior.

Jesus goes further to address the law of you shall not commit adultery. Here he tells us anyone who looks at another woman with lust in his heart has committed adultery.

This is the same way he addresses thou shall not commit murder.

There is a common phrase. Look but do not touch. Here is the way folks justify looking at someone and lusting after them and some people joke about it.

Jesus Christ tells us today to say No to these kinds of behavior because it is the process that leads folks to dark, dark places. That leads to breaking relationships, breaking your oath, and breaking your home. Even when we fail, it is the goal to follow Jesus’ command and correct our behavior.

Now Jesus is addressing divorce taking on the old law here. Laws that are written a thousand years before Jesus was born.

Divorce in Jesus Christ’s era was completely a male-dominated decision and women are completely left out of the decision.

Let us examine what Jesus said about divorce. In this passage, Jesus is advocating that if a man is going to divorce his wife, he must give her a certificate of divorce. So, she can have hope of marrying again. At that time, if a woman is not in a family unit, or husband and wife unit, or her family takes her back, she might starve to death.

So, the women have two options: to be a beggar on the street or turn to a prostitute. Because very often, the woman’s family will not take her back into their homes, a very strict culture. It is a shame at that time to be a divorcee.

Jesus is not only talking about divorce but advocating for women. One of the reasons the men at that time divorce their wives was if they could not have children.

We know now, through science that it is not only a woman’s problem. It can also be the man’s problem. But nobody knew at that time.

A man even divorces his wife if she is unable to have a male child. Imagine the struggles and stress that society placed on women at that time.

What was happening during the stone age is still happening in some parts of the world today. If a woman is caught committing adultery, she is stoned to death, but nothing happens to the man.

Jesus is telling the men that their wives are not disposable objects. Jesus is teaching His followers that men and women are equal in the eyes of God.

There are some marriages today that need to be dissolved because it is good for their health and sanity. In that, it is good for both sides. Divorce is necessary in some cases, but please understand I am not suggesting that divorce is a good thing. The cases that I am referring to are situations where it is necessary for both sides to move on and find happiness.

This reminds me of a story of an old couple that I read not too long ago. The old couple has been married for several years and they started to argue. The wife stormed off to their bedroom and started to pack her belongings in several suitcases. And telling her husband, I am done.

The husband too started to pack his belongings together, saying I’m leaving this house for you. The lady snapped “Where in the world are you going? He responded, “I’m not sure, but I’m going wherever you are going”.

Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote, ‘forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, and the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end, it is worthwhile, because in the end, only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.’

Jesus today addressing swearing. You shall not swear but carry out the vow you made to the Lord. Jesus is telling us not to swear unnecessarily and not to promise things that we cannot fulfill or keep. Our yes must be yes. And our no must be no.

Jesus is telling us to be straightforward and to be honest.

When we need something, we often pray and promise to do a lot of stuff in recognizing the faithfulness of our Lord. But, the moment we achieve what we have been praying for, we fail to keep those promises we made.

Sometimes we promise things to our fellow men, or our families and we fail to keep them after we have achieved what we have asked of them.

Jesus is telling us to stop making promises that we cannot keep. Jesus is telling us today that the most important thing is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love each other.

But how can we love our neighbor when we look down on them because we feel that the neighbor is not in our class?

How can we say we love our neighbor, but we have grudges against our siblings, family members, and even our parents?

How can we say we love our neighbors when we discriminate against other people because we do not agree with their lifestyle?

Jesus is telling us today about loving one another and forgiving one another. Jesus’ interpretation of the law called for greater righteousness which includes outward behavior and inner motive.

As a body of Christ and children of God, these choices are in front of us, and we need to decide on which one to pick.

  • Love, Empathy, forgiveness, or hate.
  • Build bridges or build walls.
  • Accepting others or discriminate
  • Looking for peace with others or a rift
  • Fire or water.
  • Life or death.
  • Serve God or remain self-centered.

Whichever one chooses will be given.