The Way of Transformation

Matthew 5: 21-37

The Gospel reading is part of Matthew’s relating of the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus sites the commands of the Jewish law, and then calls us to go beyond strict legalism and apply the laws to our moral attitudes and to love for God and others. 


Whew! That was quite the reading; perhaps a bit of a “pew squirmer!” People often come away from that passage with a sense that God will punish us for our sins; maybe even send us to hell. But, here’s another way to look at it:

We are not punished because of our sins, we are punished byour sins (we “do it” to ourselves). Here’s a story to illustrate this—I’ve told it once before, but it’s worth telling again.


The Cake


Alice was to bake a cake for the Church Ladies' Group, but forgot to do it until the last minute. She remembered it the morning of the bake sale and after rummaging through cabinets, found an angel food cake mix & quickly made it while drying her hair, dressing, and helping her son pack for scout camp.


When she took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat And the cake was horribly disfigured, "Oh dear, there is not time to bake another cake!"


So, being inventive, she looked around the house for something to build up the center of the cake. She found it in the bathroom - a toilet Paper roll. She plunked it in and then covered it with icing. Not only did the finished product look beautiful, it looked perfect!


Before she left the house to drop the cake by the church and head for work, Alice woke her daughter Amanda, and gave her some money and specific instructions: “Be at the bake sale the moment it opens at 9:30; buy the cake and bring it home.”


When Amanda arrived at the sale, she found that the attractive, perfect cake had already been sold. Amanda grabbed her cell phone and called her mom.
Alice was horrified! Everyone would know! What would they think? She would be ostracized, talked about, ridiculed!

All night, Alice lay awake in bed thinking about people pointing fingers at her and talking about her behind her back.

The next day, Alice promised herself she would try not to think about the cake; and would attend the fancy luncheon at the home of a fellow church member-- and try to have a good time. She did not really want to attend because the hostess was a snob who more than once had looked down her nose at the fact that Alice was a single parent and not from the founding families of the town. But having already RSVP'd , she couldn't think of a believable excuse to stay home.


The meal was elegant, but to Alice 's horror, the cake in question was presented for desert!


Alice felt the blood drain from her body when she saw the cake! She started out of her chair to tell the hostess all about it, but before she could get to her feet, one woman said, "what a beautiful cake!".


Then Alice heard the hostess say, "Thank you, I baked it myself."


Alice smiled and said nothing…



I leave you to pick out the three sins and what you could call the effects or “punishments.” Something to talk about during your pasta lunch.


The gospel reading for this Sunday is part of three full chapters relating the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon is found only in Matthew, though The Sermon on the Plain in Luke presents a similar message, but in a shorter and different way.


Would you think I was nuts if I suggested that this gospel reading tied in nicely with Heart Month? Well, hopefully, that will become clearer as I go along.


The Gospel readings for our two previous Sundays come just before today’s reading. They are presented in a “God has done this!” approach.

·        In the Beatitudes, God blessed the people, not because they are exemplars of the law, but because of their inward orientations of heart. 

·        Then in last Sunday’s reading, we were told that God made us the salt and light of the world.

With those affirmations, we are then led into taking the next step towards a full life in God’s kingdom--today’s “You do this!” part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here, we are called to go beyond the righteousness of the “law oriented” scribes and the Pharisees, who strictly followed the laws of the Hebrew scriptures. We are called to extend these laws into a “Jesus oriented life”—a life transformed from a focus on outward behaviour to interior attitudes in our hearts.

The foundation for this “Jesus oriented life” is the Great Commandment

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment (commandment, not a suggestion). And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 22: 37-40)

Clearly, the foundation is love—and along with it we know, is God’s loving forgiveness at times when we fail and come to him in repentance.

Let’s keep this Great Commandment in mind as we take a look at each of the four aspects of today’s reading (murder, adultery, divorce, vows).

I’ll use the headings that Richard Rohr has in his book “Jesus’ Plan for a New World” –he puts the reading into a framework of Love

I should add, that when I say “take a look,” I don’t even pretend to have any great understanding of this passage—I simply will share bits and pieces I have gathered from a variety of trusted Christian sources-- and leave it to you to take it from there. 


Murder/Anger: under Rohr’s heading of

        Love Shows No Hostility


·        Anger is a mechanism of bondage. Things like nursing anger, calling another person a fool, and holding ill will get you just as trapped in negativity as killing; …and could even lead to killing.

·        The New International Version (NIV) adds: The simple moral fact is that words kill.

·        On the humourous side: A 10 year old child when thinking about angels and anger, wrote this: When an angel gets mad, it takes a deep breath and counts to 10. And when it lets its breath out again, somewhere there’s a tornado.

The way of transformation

·        Go and be reconciled while there is still time, before you hold onto it too long and it poisons your heart.


This message was brought home very clearly to me several years ago in a church in Edmonton. On the way to church, Ken and I had an argument over something (who knows what) and weren’t speaking to one another by the time we got to church. At the door, someone stopped us to ask if we would be part of the prayer team in the chapel after church.


Us… now… feeling the way we do? We just looked at each other, and the unspoken words of “I’m sorry”, brought peace to both of us, and a willingness to serve in the prayer room.


·        Going further with anger/hostility, it was noted in one of the books I read, that the need to make peace is the reason churches generally have confession and passing of the peace before the offering--the time when we offer our gifts and ourselves to the Lord


Adultery: entitled by Richard Rohr as Love is not Predatory


·        “Predatory” in the sense of “going after” someone you shouldn’t--  whether in reality, with a lustful look or a fantasy in which you create a relationship in your mind.

·        One writer commented: We can pat ourselves on the back for not committing adultery, and yet create primary relationships with work, sports, or even the internet, rather than our spouse.


The way of transformation


·        Jesus knows how hard it is to discipline the mind, heart, and senses; he thus compares these changes to radical surgery. Through his use of exaggeration, he puts across the message that we must make a complete and radical change to get rid of the source of temptation.


Divorce: Love in Marriage


·        “The Message,” a fairly recent version of the Bible, expresses a concern about “legal divorces” saying: Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’


The way of transformation

·        In Jewish culture, divorce was allowable, but totally on the side of the male. He just had to give her a written notice of divorce. The reading I have done suggested that in this passage, Jesus showed concern about two things:

-      the hardness of heart of men who divorced a woman for no reason other than to marry another, or just because they were tired of her

-      the injustice of the woman having no rights or opportunity for equality of dialogue

·        As we keep in mind the underlying focus on love of the gospel, we recognize that divorce is to be carefully considered, looking with love at the effects on all involved


Oaths: Love is Unconditionally Truthful


·        “Swearing by or on” anything involves you in judgement and can turn into evil actions in order to accomplish what you’re after

·        A world of oaths and law suits (as we have today) is one of mistrust, is uncaring, and shows a lack of relationship.

Way of Transformation

·        Use words that speak the truth and can be understood

·        “The Message” version of the Bible says this of promises “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.



I close with a connection to Epiphany; Jesus as Light of the World. The God born in a manger enters the messiness of our lives in all its dimensions, seeking to heal and save.

This God offers a life deep and wide, where light shines into every nook and cranny; not a puny, flat life, reduced to avoiding the "big sins."

Jesus gives the disciples and us a new way of life, not rejecting tradition, but building upon it and moving it into the heart. It is a way of life that demands more and promises more. It is life abundant!

And as Sheena said a few weeks ago: Amen