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This Sunday's Programme

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6th Sunday Year A

Sunday 12th February 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mt 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples,
‘Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish religious tradition. Rather than destroy I’ve actually come to fulfil it. Until the end of the world comes, not so much as a dot on an ‘i’ will be ignored until it is fulfilled. Anyone who breaks even the smallest commandment and encourages others to follow suit will be despised in the kingdom of God but anyone who keeps the commandments and encourages others to do the same will be highly regarded in the kingdom of God.

‘Look I’m telling you, unless your following of God, your adherence to God’s ways, is greater that of the religious leaders who meticulously keep the commandments, you won’t get into God’s kingdom.

‘You know that our ancient religious tradition has said, you shall not murder, and that murderers will be held accountable, but I’m telling you, you will be held accountable for nursing your anger. You will have to answer for your actions if you treat another person with contempt. Even more, the person who destroys another’s reputation, by careless or malicious talk, will go to the worst of hells.

‘So when you come to worship God, think hard – does anyone have something against you. If they do, stop what you are doing, turn on your heel and go and be reconciled with them. Then come and worship God. You are going to have to answer for your actions and it is better to sort out your problems before you are in front of the judge. Otherwise, the judgment may go against you and you will have to pay for all the trouble you caused.

‘You’ve heard how it was said in the Law that you should not commit adultery but I’m telling you that anyone who perves at a woman has committed adultery in the heart.

‘You must take the causes of sin seriously. If you can’t control your eye, pluck it out. It is better to lose part of yourself than for your entire self to be condemned to hell. If you can’t control your hand, cut it off. It is better to lose part of yourself than for your entire self to be condemned to hell. It is better to deal squarely with your compulsions and addictions than to have them destroy your life – both in this life and the next.

‘It has been said that if a man wanted to divorce his wife, all he had to do to give her the flick was to hand her a divorce paper. But I’m telling you that anyone who does that to his wife demeans her and treats her like an adulteress. And he demeans himself making himself, becoming an adulterer.

‘You have heard that the ancient traditions tell you not to swear falsely but keep the words you make in God’s name. But I’m telling you all your words should be true. Don’t use God and God’s holy things to prop up your words. Mean what you say: Yes, when you mean Yes, and No, when you mean No. Anyone playing around with oaths comes from the devil.’

– Shorter Version.

Jesus said to his disciples,
‘ Look I’m telling you, unless your following of God, your adherence to God’s ways, is greater that the religious leaders who meticulously keep the commandments, you won’t get into God’s kingdom.

‘You know that our ancient religious tradition has said, you shall not murder, and that murderers will be held accountable, but I’m telling you, you will be held accountable for nursing your anger.

‘You’ve heard how it was said in the Law that you should not commit adultery but I’m telling you that anyone who perves at a woman has committed adultery in the heart.
You have heard that the ancient traditions tell you not to swear falsely but keep the words you make in God’s name. But I’m telling you all your words should be true. Don’t use God and God’s holy things to prop up your words. Mean what you say: Yes, when you mean Yes, and No, when you mean No. Anyone playing around with oaths comes from the devil.’

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 118:1-2; 4-5; 17-18, 33-34

Those who follow God’s law have a clear conscience,
happiness fills their lives.
Doing God’s will with an ever seeking heart
is the source of deepest joy.

God, you have given us laws
to be followed with our heart.
Strengthen my resolve
to pursue your wisdom.

With the blessing of your grace,
I shall live and listen to your word.
Teach my heart to appreciate
the wonder of your law.

Teach me to understand the truths of your laws
that I may live truly.
Under their guidance
I will be fully alive in your love.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, the teaching of your Son, Jesus, invites us to the fullness of life. Send the wisdom of your Spirit upon us that we may face the dark places of our lives and hearts realistically and with the Spirit’s power allow the teaching of Jesus to guide our lives. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

Mt 5:17-37

After challenging his disciples to be salt and light to the world, Jesus expects his followers to live by using a series of contrasts between the Jewish Tradition and his new teaching. But, first, Jesus is very careful to explain the relationship between his teaching and the Law: it is NOT going to be swept aside, rather it comes to its fulfilment in his teaching.

Our use of the word Law for the Jewish term ‘Torah’ is unfortunate to say the least. With our English Law mentality, ‘laws’ are often regarded as rules to be kept…or pushed just so far so that we don’t get into trouble: the ‘How many kms can I go over the speed limit before the cops will charge me?’ mentality. Rather Torah was seen as guidance based on the covenant relationship. God had committed himself to this people, Israel, and in love had given them a series of commandments that would awaken them to a full and rich life. Using the driving image again, this would mean that when we got into a car, we would ask, ‘How can I drive so that I respect the preciousness of human life that is in all the people around me?’ With such a mentality, even a trip to pick up the newspaper becomes a religious act. Human nature, being what it is, finds it so much easier to keep external laws than to transform one’s heart. The magnificent obedience of the Pharisees could easily turn into legalism that missed the point of the Torah.

In this Sunday’s and next Sunday’s Gospel, we see Jesus’ transformation of six aspects of Torah – six areas central to life in society: anger management, sexuality and marriage, truthfulness, forgiveness and relationship with ‘enemies/outsiders’. They appear as antitheses – ‘The Torah and Prophets say this but _I_ say that.’ Jesus asserts his position in relation to the Law and the Prophets and a superficial reading looks like he is rejecting the past but a close study of each contrast shows that Jesus really is fulfilling Torah by calling on us to live in love from the heart.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Every society has principles which guide the way that society operates. The principles that guided the society of Jesus’ time were developed from the Mosaic Law. When Jesus gave his teaching he did not just a tinker with the laws, an ‘updating of an Act of Parliament’ as we would understand it but rather he went to the heart of what the Mosaic Law was trying to achieve. By developing the meaning of the Law he gave a model for Christian living and the formation of Christian community.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus bases his teaching on areas fundamental to the ordering of good society:
Anger:– the need to deal with disagreement and friction.
Marriage: – the need for respect of the sexual integrity of other people.
– the need to respect one’s own spouse.
Truth: – the need for this to be the basis of all speech, not just when God is invoked.
Revenge: – the need for generosity of spirit in the face of injustice.
The Boundaries of the Group: – the need to treat enemies and outsiders as God treats them.
.
Each of these is fundamental to the formation of a Christian society. They provide a checklist for our society as a whole, and for our individual behaviour. It is worth taking some time to think about what are the principles by which our current Australian society operates and how we can dialogue with those principles from our Christian faith. For example, the use of sex in advertisements must make us question our society’s so-called ‘esteem’ for sexuality and challenge us to promote the glorious vision of marriage that Jesus offers. A different example is when disaster strikes across our country, be it fire, flood or cyclone, I am struck by two things – the generosity of volunteers to strangers, and the commitment to the public good that underlies the whole disaster response. As Christians, we can not only applaud these responses but we can also work for their further development.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

In his book, The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs describes how for a year he tried to live by the rules of the Bible. His upbringing had been as a secular Jew. He didn’t undertake this project as an expression of faith but rather as an interesting idea for a book. Over the course of the year, as he tried to get behind the rules to their meaning, he experienced a personal transformation. He hadn’t presumed that the rules would be easy to understand and often he had to discover strategies by which he could fulfil a commandment.

His strategies for fulfilling the commandment ‘not to lust’ give an insight into the mechanism of sin. In trying not to become infatuated with another man’s wife, his first strategy was to imagine her as out of his league – ‘she a princess, he a peasant.’ His next strategy was to imagine her as his mother. Then he tried distracting himself by reciting passages from the Bible. But his final strategy, recommended by a Unitarian Pastor, went to the core of what sin is about. The advice was:

Do not objectify. Battle your urge to objectify women and/or men focusing on them as a complete person, instead of a collection of covetable body parts. Think about their childhood, what their favorite novel might be, how many cousins they have, whether they own a PC or Mac.

In short, treat others as though they are complete human beings, not just as objects to fulfil our passing desires. This strategy can be applied to the whole myriad of temptations we may face: anger, lying, theft, revenge. It helps us develop the heart and mind that will treasure the richness of others, and of ourselves, when we are faced with the temptation to be less than what God desires us to be.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– Rembrandt’s famous painting of the return of The Prodigal Son is  an extraordinary painting on reconciliation.

– Frederic Leighton’s Death of Romeo and Juliet and the reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets .

– Statue of Reconciliation by Josefina de Vasconcellos, at Coventry Cathedral.

– Maurice Harron’s sculpture Hands across the divide.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

What are some of the principles by which you try to live? Mull on how you could apply them in ordinary circumstances of your life?

Consider the lives of people you esteem? What principles do you think sustains their behaviour?

Consider the behaviour of some people you don’t esteem? What can you learn from their negative behaviour?

What is one principle put into action that you think would improve your life? Mull with Jesus on how you could bring this about.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

Where do you believe God is calling to live a fuller life?
What disciplines would foster this life?
What practical things could you do this coming week to follow that call of grace?

Rest in the love of your God

– A different way of considering religious law and tradition.

Rest in the love of your God.

From this perspective of God’s love ponder what religious tradition and law means to you.
If you see them as restricting regulations, where do you see the ‘laws’ stopping you from living life to the full?
Is there a way of understanding these regulations as disciplines offering training for love of God and others?

Rest in the love of your God.