O Lord God, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Chapters 29 & 30 of Deuteronomy are part of a covenant ceremony, wherein Moses is calling upon the people to commit themselves to the way of life about which he has expounded throughout the book. His final message is that living outside this covenant can only lead to death. The Israelites will need constantly to choose life by their obedience.
30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Sirach (traditionally known as “Ecclesiasticus”) is a book of the Apocrypha, a set of books not considered Scripture by Jews, but included in the Old Testament by Roman Catholics. Anglicans read them “for example of life and instruction of manners,” yet not to be used in the establishment of any doctrine. Our passage today emphasizes human responsibility in obeying the commandments. God does not cause sin.
15:15 If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. 16 He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. 17 Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. 18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; 19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. 20 He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.
1 Happy are they whose way is blameless, *
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Happy are they who observe his decrees *
and seek him with all their hearts!
3 Who never do any wrong, *
but always walk in his ways.
4 You laid down your commandments, *
that we should fully keep them.
5 Oh, that my ways were made so direct *
that I might keep your statutes!
6 Then I should not be put to shame, *
when I regard all your commandments.
7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, *
when I have learned your righteous judgments.
8 I will keep your statutes; *
do not utterly forsake me.
Paul is writing to a divided and conflicted community. The divisions have partially to do with factions loyal to one of their two early teachers, Paul and Apollos. Paul tells them the quarrel is a symptom of their immaturity in the faith. It is simply a matter of one person’s ministry following on another within the purposes of God.
3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
The Sermon on the Mount continues. Jesus has just declared that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Verses 21-48 then offer six examples of that fulfillment (we have four today and two next week). In some cases (murder and adultery), Jesus demands we go deeper into the desires of our hearts. In others (divorce, oaths) he does away with provisions that made some allowances. In bringing these sayings together, Matthew is trying to show that Jesus is the authoritative interpreter of the law. The exhortation to remove body parts that offend was never meant to be taken literally, but is simply Jesus’ use of hyperbole to make a point.
5:21 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.’ 22 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. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 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. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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. 31 It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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. 33 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.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Copying for study groups is encouraged with attribution.