Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘But I say to you …’
Historian Jack Oruch has made the case that the traditions associated with Valentine’s Day, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules (Birds) and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, had no such tradition before Chaucer (14th century). He argues that the explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-
The message of the martyred Valentine is “love one another” – not with a love that depends on chemistry, mood or feelings – nor even with a love that depends on the behaviour of others, but love one another with the kind of love that Christ refers to in the Sermon on the Mount.
This is the love that goes beyond mere adherence to the letter of the law, and enters into the Spirit of Torah – what God wants for us – the love that enters into feeding others, into healing others, into showing grace to others, into giving peace to others, the love that values others, regardless of who they are or what they have or have not done.
The words of Jesus we hear today are addressed to a people (now as then) prone to equivocating, prone to compromising – to altering love’s demands as they are found in the law of God so that those demands might be easier to fulfill.
“You have heard it was said you shall not murder – but I say to you that if you are angry with your brother or sister – you will be liable to judgement.”
“You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit adultery, but I tell you that everyone who looks with lust at another has already committed adultery …”
“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbours, but I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you ...”
What Jesus does is crystallize the issues involved in loving God and neighbour so that we can know where we stand, and what we need to aim for.
We are invited/urged to think about where we stand. We are invited/urged to think about how we love others.
If I haven’t killed someone, whom have I called a fool? What emotion did I pour out upon a person when I became angry?
If I haven’t committed adultery as such, and felt righteous about this, I might consider what I have wanted to do. I might consider all the ways I have objectified others.
Or I might consider who holds a grudge against me because of something I did, something for which I have not apologised?
Or again, what promises and vows have I broken – and then justified my breaking them?
I remember a lecture a few years back by Professor Gary Trompf (History of Ideas, Sydney University), arguing that the idea of loving one’s enemies had barely made an impact on human consciousness.
We greet those who greet us. We do good to those who do good to us. We lend to those who will pay back. We welcome those who welcome us. As for everyone else, well, if asked, most of us have a reason for what we do, and an excuse for what we do not do.
What we aim for as peacemakers, as Christians, Professor Trompf argued, is to break through the limitations of our excuses. We aim to destroy all reasons that we might offer to treat one person as less than another and to enter into relationships with each other that are based upon equality before God.
Another mountain sermon. An old pilgrim was making his way to the Himalayan Mountains in the bitter cold of winter when it began to rain. An inn keeper said to him, “How will you ever get there in this kind of weather?” The old man answered cheerfully, “My heart got there first, so it’s easy for the rest of me to follow.”
The gospel teaches that we can meet the demands of love expressed in the law in one way – and only in one way – if our hearts go/get there first.
Let your hearts go. Love God and love each other as deeply as you can.
When you do, you will find that no matter how many mistakes you make on the way, goodness and blessedness will blossom along your path.
We have, on the altar-
Before a time of silence – and then our completing the homily together – I’d like to conclude with this short quote from John Caputo. It underlines the words of Jesus: “But I say to you”. The “but” not so much a contradiction as an affirmation of the law. Can we hear it also as an affirmation of goodness in creation and in different human cultures – a deep striving for freedom so vivid today on the streets of Cairo and Algiers?
“The Scriptures ... do not relieve us of the responsibility of thinking for ourselves … or of rethinking ancient traditions, for the ultimate tradition that is handed down to us is not any particular creed, practice, or institutional structure, but the event of love that was astir in Jesus and then is handed on to the church. [A] genuine tradition is not constituted by any position or positivity but by a deeper affirmation. The task is not to reproduce literally what Jesus said and did ... but to repeat the love with which he said and did them, on the bet that those are the practices in which he would recognize himself today.”
When have you received a “deeper” or “other” truth in conversation with a “teacher”?
Draws on reflection by Richard Fairchild.