I love checklists, but I shudder at how easily we can turn faith into a self-help program that creates a litmus test for those who are "in."
With the beatitudes, two weeks ago, the challenge was to imagine the blessings as just that: blessings, not a list of virtues to strive for.
This week it is Jesus' own attempt to move past checklists that can still lead us down that road. He sets the bar high enough that it would be pretty difficult to let ourselves off the hook. But as soon as we get to a concrete matter like divorce, that little voice creeps in. How many people will hear the first two paragraphs, but forget them entirely once they've heard Jesus compare their remarriage with adultery?
We would love, as pastors, for these texts to become the "start of conversation" about a life that honors other human beings, that refuses to let old grudges fester in our hearts, that refuses to treat others as objects. But how many people will only hear the exclusions in this text?
It doesn't help that our translators give us "hell" for "Gehenna," which was an identifiable smoldering garbage dump outside Jerusalem. Can bitterness, lust, or rage smolder like a stinky pile of refuse? You bet. No need for the afterlife to explain that one.
How do we speak honestly about the ways that sin can fester in our lives without resorting to a list which consigns some people to the realm of "sinners" more than others?