Reflections on the Gospels from a Justice Perspective written for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church by members of the congregation

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Matthew 5:38-48 - Martin Luther King on Justice

Matthew 5:38-48 -   Martin Luther King on Justice

 Today’s gospel was a core text used as part of the training for all of those of us who were actively engaged with Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement.   These stories rooted the non-violent resistance that ultimately succeeded in de-segregating many of the long standing institutions in this country deeply into the life and teaching of Jesus.  We are reading these gospels in February – Black History Month – so it is appropriate that Dr. King write the justice reflection for this gospel passage.  He said:

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”    “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”   “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

Dr. King went on to say:   “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”   “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”  “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”  “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

And finally:  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”   How can we choose to stand for love and forgive, even those who would do us harm?  How can we choose to stand up and speak out in clear affirmation that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?

16 Feb 2014: Matthew 5:21-37

If we read this Gospel lesson in isolation, we might think Jesus was determined to make his hearers feel very guilty and afraid of God’s judgment. What other reason could he have for arguing that angry words are akin to murder and lustful thoughts are like adultery?

Last week’s lesson from Matthew, which immediately precedes this one, insisted that strict adherence to the law is not enough; like lamps on a lampstand we must mirror and extend God’s love to our neighbors. This week’s lesson also seems to be addressed to people who put too much emphasis on literal obedience to the law, mistakenly believing in our own righteousness if we haven’t flagrantly violated any of the commandments. Jesus forcefully reminds us that we cannot be reconciled with God unless we are reconciled to our brothers and sisters, and that we should never think of ourselves as righteous. We have all sinned in our thoughts and words, if not also in our deeds. So we have no right to treat any of our neighbors as “sinners” who do not deserve our respectful attention and God’s love.

If we can let go of our foolish belief that God expects any of us to be perfect, we will be freed not only from the compulsion to judge our neighbors, but also from continual anxiety about our own moral standing in God’s eyes. His love and mercy extend to us all. Thanks be to God!