Thursday, December 5, 2013

“Thy Word Is a Lamp and a Light”—the Word in Psalm 119

Two of the most memorized verses in the Bible (at least for someone of my era) are Psalm 119:11, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee,” and Psalm 119: 105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (KJV). When I learned this in 5th grade, I had no way of knowing that the Hebrew behind “word” was so full of the immediate presence of God in the lives of God’s children.  Instead, I understood it to be referring directly (and only) to the Bible, the written Word of God.

So in order to improve on my childish understanding, I recently took a look at the ways it is possible legitimately to translate dabar and ’imrah, both translated (for the most part) by word or words. Buried in dabar are the ideas of speaking, setting in order, promising, declaring, warning, conversing and singing.  Buried in ’imrah are the ideas of saying, uttering, speaking, answering, thinking, and promising. The verbs behind the nouns communicate a relationship of conversing with God and of being conversed with by God. How wonderful to find in these words the same thing we see in the many stories of people talking with God in the Old Testament and the intimate ongoing conversation between Jesus and our Father in the New Testament. From the Garden of Eden until today, God has been showing up to talk with us, and we can without shame turn and talk with God because Jesus has shown us the way and made it clear we are welcome.

Here is a distillation of what Psalm 119 says about the “word,” and what it is like when God speaks to us.

When God speaks to the child,
the next step is clear;
When God speaks to the easily led, the naïve, the open-minded,
they gain discernment, understanding.

The sick at heart, sitting in dust and ashes,
grief-stricken, wasting away;
the afflicted and humbled, the persecuted—
these long for, wait for, and hope for God to speak.
God leans toward them, is present with them, and speaks.
When God speaks, they are restored to life and health,
they are protected, defended, delivered, rescued,
comforted, consoled. God does justly by them.

Those who love it when God speaks,
who are awed by God’s speaking,
who pay attention to and obey what God says:
they live within God’s limits with pleasure and playfulness,
take pleasure in other servants of God,
hear God’s speaking as pleasant,
rejoice when they hear God speaking.

They respond to God’s speaking,
they make their requests in God’s presence,
they trust God to champion their cause,
they meditate on God’s speaking until it comes to life in them.

They experience God’s bounty, speak God’s truth,
treasure God’s speaking with their whole selves,
receive God’s mercy.
They avoid causing harm,
are not dominated by trouble and wickedness,
they keep to the clear path, they stay whole,
they trust God to be just.

Hearing the Psalm this way strikes me like a memory.  I have heard this before somewhere.  And then I recognize these words are echoed in several things Jesus said, beginning with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5).

Blessed are the poor in spirit, beggar souls.
They rule in God’s kingdom.
Blessed are those who mourn, lamenters.
They will be called to be by God’s side, comforted, taught, consoled.
Blessed are the meek, gentle trusters.
They will own the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, cravers of wholeness, integrity, God’s approval.
They will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, gracious helpers of the needy and wretched.
They will receive gracious help.
Blessed are the pure in heart, those who are purified, made whole, pruned in soul, desire, intelligence, will.
They will see and be seen by God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, lovers and nurturers of peace, harmony, tranquility.
They will be named “God’s children.”
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, those who run for their lives, who face hostility, who are abused because they are who God made them to be, because they are just, because they live in wholeness.
They rule in God’s kingdom.

Psalm 119’s teaching on the “word” easily fits with Jesus’s teaching on who is blessed, who is happy. Each passage helps us read and understand the other. I come to see both as describing a daily conversation between God and human beings, a conversation in which what God says breathes life and health into us and thus helps us be our real and best selves. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Your Judgments: Justice and Mercy in Psalm 119

The word judgment has negative connotations in today’s conversation.  To say of a group that “they are so judgmental” is essentially to say they are unapproachable and unattractive because they judge others to be less than themselves. But if you substitute some of the other possible ways to translate the Hebrew word mishpat, you might say that “they are so just” or “they respond so appropriately, so rightly.”  It’s clear that the idea behind mishpat is one we are actually attracted to—the ideas of justice, equity, even-handedness, fairness. It comforts us to be able to say with the psalmist,  “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Psalm 119:137). This can be paraphrased to show the emphasis and insistence of the psalmist: “Just are you, O LORD, and just is your justice.” The word “upright” places in mind an absolute vertical line between heaven and earth.  This stands and stands firmly. We need this to be so.

We notice particularly when we are treated unjustly. “How many are the days of Your servant? When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?” (Ps. 119:84).  “I have done judgment and righteousness: do not leave me to my oppressors” (Ps. 119:121).  We all feel it keenly when someone harasses us, hems us in, dogs us, exploits us, violates us. Like this psalmist, we appropriately take these acts of enmity against us to God. “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense” (Deut. 32:35) and “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you’” (Isaiah 35:4).

I confess that this is often where I have to start when I feel wronged. I start by praying for justice: “The Lord watch between us while we are estranged, while we are enemies.” Keep an eye on that person, God, and bring your justice to sort things out between us. After a time of praying this way, I often find that God shows me how I too have been unfair, have done wrong in the relationship. God does indeed sort things out fairly.  And in the word “recompense” (shillem) is not just the idea of “paying someone back,” as we so often want to do or want God to do, but the idea of removing the injury, making peace, making good, making whole (shalam). 

This hidden peace-making is emphasized overtly in Jesus’s words, But I say to you, love your haters, wish good to those who wish you harm, act honorably to those who detest you, and pray for those who insult, abuse, and threaten you and drive you away, that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). After I have prayed for justice for awhile, I come to recognize that I actually want my innocence vindicated, more than I wish harm to the other person. The words of Jesus help prevent me from escalating the conflict.  Paul gives very similar advice: “Repay no one evil for evil, injury for injury. Wherever people look, let them see you care for the honorable, the excellent, the good, the honest. If you are strong, make and keep peace with all. … Do not be conquered by evil, by what is wrong, but conquer evil with good, with what is right” (Romans 12:17-21).

“My soul breaks with longing for Your judgments at all times” (Ps. 119:20), writes this psalmist. “My entire being breaks into pieces, is crushed with longing for Your justice now and always.”  And yet, to be fair, it is not always comforting to realize God is just.  The psalmist wrote, “My flesh trembles for fear of You; and I am afraid of Your judgments” (Ps. 119:120).  “My body shivers, my hair stands on end from terror and dread; I respect and fear your justice.”  I remember learning from Rebecca Manley Pippert (Out of the Salt Shaker…) about “the myth of innocence” we carry as regards ourselves. The unbelieving shrug, palms up, of the athlete who has just been whistled for a foul is a tiny example of our inability to see clearly how we have done harm or how we have omitted doing good. It is a heavy burden to continually have to protect our image and prove our innocence; if we can lay it down and let God sort things out, we will find freedom in God’s justice.

As we pray for justice, we will soon learn to add these prayers as well: “Look upon me, and be merciful to me, as Your judgment is toward those who love Your name…Hear my voice according to Your lovingkindness: O LORD, revive me according to Your judgment…Great are Your tender mercies, O LORD: revive me according to Your judgments (Ps. 119:132, 149, 156).  “I love you, God, the One who is; be merciful, be gracious, be just to me. Hear me because you are good, kind, and faithful; sustain my life with your justice. You cherish me, you love me tenderly; your justice keeps me alive.” 

George MacDonald said that God’s mercy and God’s justice are two ways we see the same attribute of God.  He said that God will make every excuse for us that can be made, and that God will also treat us as responsible where we are responsible.  God is glad to see the muddy child run into God’s arms, and God will lovingly and tenderly scoop the child up, disregarding the dirt, and equally lovingly and tenderly wash the child clean.

As we pray for God’s justice, as we pray for God’s mercy, as we do what Jesus tells us and what Paul reinforces, we will become more just and more merciful.  People will not see us as judgmental, but as fair and kind.  “Make my whole self fully alive and whole, and I will flash forth light; your justice surrounds and helps me” (Ps. 119:175).  “Let your light shine out where others can see your good, beautiful, honorable, excellent works and celebrate the shining splendor and majesty of your Father who surrounds you and encompasses the universe” (Matthew 5:16).  

Walk this Way

I learned the first sixteen verses of Psalm 119 when I was a fifth-grader, but I’ve never really liked this psalm.  I was a missionary kid in boarding school. My life was full of rules already, so this psalm, with its continual emphasis on love for the law, statutes, precepts, commandments, didn’t comfort me at all. As the commentary in The Jewish Study Bible points out, in this psalm, unlike most other psalms, the object of adoration and love seems often to be the law rather than God’s self. I think I was (and am) hungry for relationship, rather than rules.

However, I am never off the hook with God, and I recently felt compelled to spend some time exploring this psalm about the law. I like to look inside the words for movement and life and also think about what Jesus said that might relate to the emphasis of Psalm 119.

I noticed right away the recurrence the idea of “the way.” I turned to Blue Letter Bible on the internet to help me explore the Hebrew words. The two main words are derek and ’orach. They can mean ways, road, path, direction, journey, road. Metaphorically, they work like English to stand for how I live my life. I became more hopeful.  Perhaps this will be a psalm of movement, of journeying, rather than the static law-abiding psalm I had always thought it. (The following is the New King James Version, except where I made it gender inclusive and substituted God for He.)

1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way
3 They walk in God’s ways
5 Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes
9 How can a child, a young man or woman, cleanse his or her way?
14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies
15 I will contemplate Your ways
26 I have declared my ways, and You answered me
29 Remove from me the way of lying
30 I have chosen the way of truth
32 I will run the course of Your commandments
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes
37 Revive me in Your way
59 I thought about my ways
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way
104 Therefore I hate every false way
128 I hate every false way
168 For all my ways are before you

If you substitute journey or road for way/ways above, the psalm reveals itself to be speaking about the movement, the direction of our lives. There are several roads:  God’s, mine, evil, falseness. God has ways, as do I. I journey toward God or toward evil and falseness. I can talk with God about my journey, asking God for instruction, for signposts, asking God to make me good and true, to help me do good and tell the truth, thinking again and again about how God is directing my journey.  This helps me, because suddenly I see the practicality of this psalm.

We can see in Isaiah the prophet another witness to the movement inherent in the word way. “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left (Isaiah 30:21). This promise that God’s Holy Spirit will help us take the next steps fits in perfectly with the dynamic nature of our journey. 

Jesus refers to both the law and the ways of living or perishing that are always in front of us.  He says, "Therefore, whatever you want others to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:12-14). I have often heard this used to warn young people away from popular culture, or to justify an exclusive vision of Christianity.  However, the immediate context suggests a different application. Anyone who thinks that the Golden Rule is easy to do and “not enough” to qualify for the way which leads to life hasn’t tried it very often, especially on people one dislikes.

Similarly stringent are the words Jesus spoke about making things right:  “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way together, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:23-26). I’ve quoted this before, but it bears repeating.  George MacDonald wrote in his sermon “The Last Farthing” (Unspoken Sermons):  “I think I do know what is meant by 'agree on the way,' and 'the uttermost farthing.' The parable is an appeal to the common sense of those that hear it, in regard to every affair of righteousness. Arrange what claim lies against you; compulsion waits behind it. Do at once what you must do one day. As there is no escape from payment, escape at least the prison that will enforce it. Do not drive Justice to extremities. Duty is imperative; it must be done. It is useless to think to escape the eternal law of things; yield of yourself, nor compel God to compel you.”

Again, anyone who thinks it easy to reconcile with a brother or sister or friend turned opponent has not tried it. It takes humility and graciousness, the willingness to share blame, and the willingness to give and accept forgiveness, the willing to change one’s mind with regard to those who oppose us.  These are hard disciplines. Yet Jesus says that our journey will include reconciliation, so do it now rather than later.

And finally, the best of all, Jesus himself is our way, our truth, our life.  "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. … I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know and have seen the Father" (John 14:1-7). Jesus absolutely and accurately represents our Father, the ideal Father no human can be and no human has had except for God. Getting to know Jesus is the way to God, the journey toward God, the truth about God, the true God, the vitality to move toward God, and the fullness of life within God. Through paying attention to Jesus as depicted in the Gospels and as our teacher present with us now through the Holy Spirit, we know our destination and how to move toward it.

To read Jesus back into Psalm 119 helps us see that the journey toward God is made possible by listening to what God says and obeying and by staying open and honest with God. Jesus tells us, “Walk this way.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Series on Meeting Jesus, part 5

5) Jesus Shows Us the Path to Life

First-hand religion is what the Bible and Christian teaching point to, not second-hand or traditional. Jesus affirms this by teaching that the essence of the narrow way is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength”; death is the path to life.

We can see this immediacy of relationship from the Old Testament in the stories of people talking with God: Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and so on.  These stories include direct relationship with God, the immediacy of a present God, not a God hidden behind or within creation or tradition.

Yet even tradition was set up to personalize relationship with God.  The three big stories of the Bible below are those identified by Marcus Borg in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.  He mentions there are others, such as illness to healing, becoming a disciple, and more.

Slavery to Freedom story
Deut 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  These words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart, and you will teach them to your children, talk of them in your house and on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up, wear them on your hand and on your forehead, write them on your doorposts and on your gates.

Re Passover: And you will show your son in that day, saying, This is done because of what the Lord did to me in bringing me out of Egypt.

Deut. 6: 20-23 And if your son asks you, What is the meaning of the rituals, rules, and laws God gave us? you tell him: We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household.  But God brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land God promised to our ancestors.  The Lord commanded us to obey these commands and to reverence the Lord our God so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.  And if we are careful to obey these commands before the Lord our God, who commanded us to do these things, that will be our righteousness.

Deut. 26:5-9 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terrors and with miraculous signs and wonders. God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, with the house of Judah, not the same as the covenant I made with their ancestors I brought out of Egypt, leading them by the hand, which covenant they broke, though I was a husband to them; but this shall be the covenant I will make with the house of Israel; I will put my law in their guts, I will write it on their hearts, and they shall no longer teach their neighbors, saying “Know the Lord” for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.

Do you have a part of your spiritual journey that relates to being freed from enslavement and brought into the promised land? Can you say these things aloud and put into the place of these nations the story of how God has brought you and your community out of slavery, whether literal or figurative, and into freedom? Try this and perhaps you will want to share the story with someone else.

Exile and Return Home story

Isaiah 40
Be comforted, my people, speak compassionately to Jerusalem; tell her that the battle is over, her sins are pardoned, for she has received double purification for her sins. The voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make a straight highway in the desert for our God.  Raise the valleys, level the mountains, straighten the winding, smooth out the rough.  God will reveal God’s glory, and all humanity shall see it at once.  This is what the Lord says.

Behold your God; The Lord comes with strength to rule, bringing along wages and reward. The Lord shall feed his flock like a shepherd, gathering the lambs up and carrying them up close, and gently leading the pregnant ones.

What do you say, Jacob; what are you speaking, Israel?  You say, My way is concealed from the Lord, and God passes by my judgment. Do you not know, have you not heard that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth never faints, never tires. No one can grasp God’s wisdom and understanding of human beings.  God gives energy to the faint, strength to the weak. Even young folks are faint and weary, and fall to the ground, but those who expect, who look for the Lord shall renew strength, soar with wings like eagles, run without wearying, walk without fainting.

Isaiah 42:16 I will bring the blind by a way they do not know; I will lead them in unfamiliar paths; I will make darkness light for them and straighten out what is crooked.  I will do these things, and I will not forsake them.

Isaiah 43: 1-20 This is what the Lord says, the Lord who created you, Jacob, and who shaped you, Israel. Fear not, for I have paid your ransom, I have called you by your name; you are mine. When you pass through deep water, I will be with you; rivers will not sweep you away; fire shall not burn you, nor shall flame kindle on you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Saviour…Fear not; for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and west, the north and south; I will say, Bring my sons from far and my daughters from the ends of the earth. You have not called upon me, Jacob, and you, Israel, have been weary of me; you have not worshiped me with offerings and sacrifices; instead you have made me part of your sins and wearied me with your iniquities.  I, even I, am the one who blots out your transgressions, your rebellions, for my own sake; for my own sake I will not remember your sins. Remember me; let us converse; tell me your story and explain your side of things.

Isaiah 40:20-21 Leave Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans, and sing this song, tell this story even to the ends of the earth: The Lord has redeemed, has ransomed Jacob, and has led them through deserts where they did not thirst because water sprang from the rocks for them.

Isaiah 51:11 Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall have gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning will flee away. 

Do you have a part of your life that resonates with the exile and return home story? Can you witness to the faithfulness of God described above to rescue you from being strangers in a foreign land, whether literal or figurative, and bring you and your community back home? If so, you might consider sharing your story with someone else.

Sacrifice and Redemption story

This story describes human beings as marked by guilt, shame, experiential distance from God, and then through the intervention of Jesus’s death and resurrection, receiving forgiveness, grace, acceptance. The key is turning toward God and accepting what God has done independent of our own efforts to reconcile with us.

Psalm 51 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, and thee only have I sinned. Wash me, and I will be clean, purer than snow.  Create in me a clean heart, O God…

Matt 9:13, 12:7 Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners?  Jesus heard this and said to them, Those who are well do not need a doctor, but those who are sick do.  Go and learn what it means when God says, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; for I came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.

Why do your disciples break the Sabbath law? Jesus said, But if you had known what this means—I will have mercy and not sacrifice—you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Eph 5:2 Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Heb 7:27, 9:26, 10:12 Jesus was made the guarantee of a better testament…holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, made higher than the heavens, who offered himself up once for all time.

Now he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God…For by one offering he has perfected for ever those that are consecrated to God.

John 3:16, 17 For God so loved the world that God gave the only begotten Son, that all who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28
Whoever wants to be highly ranked among you shall wait on tables, and whoever wants to be the boss shall serve everyone.  For even the Son of man came not to receive service, but to do service, to give his life to ransom many.

Do you have part of your life that resonates with the sacrifice and redemption story? Have you turned around from alienation and estrangement from God, guilt, and shame to an awareness of God’s redemptive action on your behalf, grace, and acceptance?  If so, perhaps you will want to share this with another person.

Series on Meeting Jesus, part 4

4) Jesus Shows Us Wisdom, subversive and alternative

How we hear the word of God determines the path we walk; Jesus invites hearers to hear, and to hear imaginatively so that their perspective is transformed. These scriptures that follow are some of the puzzling, challenging, memorable things Jesus said that have the power to shake up our normal common sense approach to the world and let the light of God's wisdom in to change us.

Matthew 11:15
Jesus speaks about John the Baptist and says this:  Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people lay hold of it. … And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  Whoever has ears, hear.

Matthew 13:9
Parable of the sower and the seed
Whoever has ears, hear. The disciples asked, Why do you speak to the people in parables.  He replied, The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even that will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables: though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Matthew 13:43
Parable of the weeds
The world is full of good and bad, side by side. At the world’s end, angels will separate them, get rid of the bad, and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, hear.

Mark 4:23
Do you place a lamp under a bowl or a bed? Instead don’t you place it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, hear.  Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (This last is also said in relationship to judging others, Matthew 7.)

Luke 14:35
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears, hear.

Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44

You have heard it said, “do not murder” and anyone who murders is subject to justice, to judgment; but I say to you, anyone who is enraged with another human will be subject to justice; anyone who calls another human “you emptyhead,” will be answerable to courts, and anyone who says “you fool” is in danger of being cast out for burning; therefore be reconciled right away, settle matters quickly.

You have heard it said, “do not commit adultery” but I say to you, anyone who ogles, who leers at, who carries around lust for another human has already willed to commit adultery; better to gouge out your eyes than be cast out for burning.

You have heard it said, anyone who divorces a wife must give her the document declaring the divorce; but I say to you, if you divorce casually rather than for a cause of unfaithfulness, you cause your wife to commit adultery and if you marry a divorced woman, you commit adultery.

You have heard it said, do not break your oath, keep the oaths you made to the Lord; but I say you, do not take oaths, whether you guarantee your word by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, all of which are inhabited by God; nor by your own head, which you can’t stop from going gray; simply say yes or no and mean it; all else admits that sometimes you don’t keep your word just like the evil one.

You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. But I say to you, don’t resist the one who wants to harm you; present the other side when someone hits you on one side. If someone sues you for a tunic, throw in your coat; if someone makes you go one mile, go two; give to the one who asks, lend to the one who wants to borrow.

You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy; but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who make your life miserable so that you can be children who resemble our Father who is all around us. God makes the sun to rise on evil and good people, the rain to fall on just and unjust people. 

Mark 7:16
Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside people can make them unclean by going into them. Rather it is what comes out of them that makes them unclean….For from within, out of human hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. [This is the point of all the “you have heard it said, but I say” passages above.]

Matt 11:22, 24

I say to you that in the day when Justice comes, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon than for the cities of Galilee where I have done wonders. ... I say to you that the justice that comes to Sodom will be more bearable than that which falls on Capernaum, where I have done miracles that would have convicted Sodom to repent.

Matt 12:6, 31, 36
I say to you, one greater than the temple is here; the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath; you would not condemn the innocent if you understood what God means by this: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

I say to you, Every violation of God’s law and slander of God will be forgiven, sent away, disregarded, except slander, detraction, injurious speech against the Holy Spirit; that will not ever be forgiven or ignored. [The context for this is attributing Jesus’s power to cast out demons to the devil.]

A good person brings forth good things out of the treasure of the whole self; an evil person out of an evil self brings forth evil things.  I say to you, that when justice arrives, people will have to make right every lazy, irresponsible, careless word they have spoken. Truly, out of their own words they will be shown to be just or unjust, right or wrong; out of their own words, they will be set free or found guilty.

Have any of these words of wisdom been enlightening for you, changed your perspective, helped you be more like Jesus at a particular time? If so, perhaps you might want to share that with someone else.