See I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God… by loving [him], by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply… Therefore choose life… loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days… (vv. 15, 16, 19b, 20a)
The church engages the Sermon on the Mount through the gateway of its Beatitudes, by which Jesus calls us to a “righteousness” superior to the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20), the arbiters of Judaic legal cases.
On the Mount Jesus blessed his disciples to be “salt and light” in the world (vv. 13a, 14a); then gets to the point, tackling scribal cases of murder, lust, adultery, divorce, and oaths, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder…’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…”
Now be careful, Jesus’ words are not intended to intensify God’s Commandments. Rather Jesus desires to open for us the heart of the law, from Cain’s murder of his brother to his own on the cross, revealing the mark of Cain and the sign of the Cross imprinted at Baptism.
Sin desires souls; sin’s anger initiates and animates murderous hearts. Cain was Eve’s firstborn son; she assumed him God’s promised redeemer, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Gen. 4:1; cf. 3:15 & 20; Ex. 13:1).
Getting out ahead of God in this manner engenders factions. Cain would grow to manhood, the apple of his mother’s eye to occupying a place of superiority in the family of man; suggestive of tragedies for God’s young church.
Abel’s worship was offered in “poverty of spirit” denoting a faith acceptable to the Lord; but his brother Cain’s puffed-up status made an offering refused. Again, knowledge of God comes through Beatific “spiritual poverty” for “purity of worship” in Thanksgiving.
St. Paul, returns us to Corinth’s festering anger expressed in factions. He urges brothers to recognize each other, not as competitors for God’s favor, but a communal body doing mercy toward each other for the grace received in Christ.
Here Paul puts his finger on that “superior righteousness” Jesus enjoins on disciples; not a following of new rules and regulations; but power that discerns being united in word. What is important for Paul is the integrity of the preached word, not preacher style.
Thus, “murder” of a brother is not simply the unlawful killing of reputation or in-deed; rather it expresses anger toward our creator God who for Christ’s sake is our “life and length of days”.
Again, Jesus’ prohibition against anger in the church does not intensify the 5th Commandment; rather Christians are to recognize that anger inherently offends when our puffed-up words pursue an agenda against a brother or sister’s expense; so we understand Jesus warning against calling a brother “numbskull”, “fool”, or otherwise diminishing him in the body.
It is the same with Jesus’ injunctions against lust, fornication, adultery, divorce, and oaths. Jesus is not drawing boundaries in the sand for 6th, 7th, and 8th Commandment conduct; rather he is concerned to promote purity of worship that sees God face to face (5th Beatitude), reflecting love’s joy for brother and sister, especially in their marital status.
What then is our Christian take-away about human sexuality? Ultimately it is this: like anger and its follow-on sin, murder in one form or another; the sins of lust, fornication, adultery, divorce also crouch at the door of our hearts ready to fracture the church.
Faith empowers repentance by “poverty of spirit” and “meekness” before the Lord for casting-off an offending eye and to discipline congregant members in love to reunite a common confession of faith.
In the matter of sexuality, like all else, the church is modeled and worked by Jesus’ word to God’s intended purposes. He declared, “[W]hoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Mt. 19:9).
Again, this is not a piling-on of regulations, as Rome and others suppose; but at its core, it is gospel proclamation that Jesus as faithful bridegroom, except for the one cause of unbelief (infidelity), promises never to divorce his betrothed bride cleansed in his blood.
The question of factions in the body is much the same with oaths. The catholic congregation confesses she is one, holy, and apostolic. Of this witness she does not swear before God’s face in Christ anything other than “yes” or “no”, which otherwise would imply inconsistency of unity; as the saying suggests, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (Hamlet).
For those gathering Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day with hearts mourning over sin’s anger, lust, divorce, and false oaths; “poverty of spirit” in Christ rejoices in mercy. Such joy can do no other than forgive as freely as it receives and seek forgiveness of brothers and sisters.
All of us, like Cain, are reared in a milieu of sin’s unremitting desire for souls; urging us puffed-up against brother. Sin crouches at the heart’s door. When we allow anger and lust sway and entry, sin is ready to incite murder in the congregation; thus St. Paul tamped-down on Corinth’s factions.
Christ absorbed the entirety of God’s righteous wrath against Cain and we, baptized into his crucified flesh. By resident anger we are wont to usurp or Creator’s prerogative of judgment and vengeance. But believing God’s Christ’s word, we behold God’s face for mercy, choosing life and good over death and evil to rule over sin’s desire.
Our “superior righteousness” consists in being “salt and light”, in hearing and reflecting Jesus’ Torah word. If you are aware of some pride that separates you from brother or sister, then before attending Holy Communion’s reconciliation; first seek it with brother or sister (5:23-25). To this end St. Paul urges a “holy kiss” (1 Cor. 16:20) before offering Eucharist. Amen.