6 Epiphany

Deut. 30:15-20 or Sir. 15:15-20Ps. 119:1-81 Cor. 3:1-9Matt. 5:21-37

Loving the Lord your God and walking in his ways bring life and prosperity. Turning away and refusing to hear bring death and adversity. We have that on the strong authority of Moses and the God for whom he speaks (Deut. 30:15-20). Why then are many persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Why do the oppressors live in palatial homes and eat the finest food? God is not mocked. Judgment will surely come.

Still, amidst the vagaries of life and the delay of justice, we are called to choose rightly and act faithfully. God gives a vision of fire and water. Choose we must. God shows life and death and we must decide. The choice, however, is not between options of equal value held out as the ordained will of God. God forbid! “God has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin” (Sir. 15:15-20). Choosing to walk in God’s ways is to travel along a path defined by the flowing of God’s goodness and grace.

Amidst a faithful life dedicated to God, troubles are inevitable in a fallen world. Many must simply be endured, but not all. Discord among the faithful, though a predictable result of the in-between time of discipleship, is something we must ever work to overcome. Bitter division among the elect is to act as if Christ has not yet come. As Paul asks, “as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” (1 Cor. 3:3).

More disturbing yet is division rooted in presumed religious “faithfulness”: “For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?” (1 Cor. 3:4). These are forceful words addressed to a community earlier praised for “the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). They have been “enriched in him” and they “are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor. 1:5-7). And yet jealousy and quarreling threaten their union in Christ. Paul and Apollos are God’s servants, and the communities they serve are God’s field, God’s building. The common purpose between them all is stated in that all important small possessive God’s.

The superabundant righteousness that Jesus commends places reconciliation even above religious observance. “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (1 Cor. 3:23-24). There is no suggestion that it matters whether what your brother or sister has against you is legitimate or justified. The division itself is the primary concern and the responsibility to act is placed on “the disciple.”

Notice too the concern for inner disposition, which in its own way nourishes the division even when people may be in physical proximity and are perhaps acting as if everything is fine. No! Anger and insult hurt the body of Christ because they nourish hostility and deepen division. Related closely to this is the command “Do not swear at all.” Do not appeal to an outside authority (even God or his ambassadors) as a way to place yourself above or against a brother or sister. Rather, let your words be reliable and responsible. “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.’”

Reconciliations will often be imperfect. Imagine that the oldest son in the story of the prodigal father finally joins the party. It may be tense, but it’s a start.

Look It Up
Read Ps. 119:1. They who are blameless: think of Jesus.

Think About It
In the real world of human relationships, imperfect reconciliations must sometimes be accepted.

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