Today’s reading is one of the hardest segments of the Sermon on the Mount for 21st century Christian readers. Jesus takes the “black and white” commandments of the Decalogue and complicates and deepens them. Already messy human matters of adultery, divorce, and vow-keeping are taken into the depths of our obscure inner lives. Our public declarations and actions are indications of what lies within, Jesus teaches. And it is the whole person he came to save. Franz Kline’s abstract impressionism uses thick black brushstrokes on layered white background to draw us into questions of what lies underneath. Where are the “Buried Reds” of this painting? Our present reality has led us to new, troubling, constant awareness of the power of unseen forces over our lives. How does Jesus’ teaching here give us a spiritual framework for contemplating our new reality?
The Holy Gospel Matthew 5:27-37
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. 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.
‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” 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.
‘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.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Franz Kline (1953)
Oil on Canvas