Reflection Feb. 12, 2023 (Black History Month)
Deuteronomy 30:15-20/ Psalm 119:1-8/ Matthew 5:21-37
Walking in God’s Ways
Piety vs. Hypocrisy
Today, we reflect on what it means to be holy or pious. Throughout the Christian history, there have been a lot of pious people who led a holy life. Some became saints or went down in history for their admirable faith that they lived out. Other so called “holy” people were hypocrites. How does one tell the difference between true piety and hypocrisy? We have to check if their lives AND hearts reflect the teachings of Jesus without contradiction.
Nobody is perfect and we should remember that even the most pious people of God have sinned. King David didn’t become Israel’s ideal king for being perfect. Remember when he sent a soldier to the battlefield to die because he wanted the man’s wife? What makes him a great man of faith (which is separate from David as a great king) is his humble heart. When Nathan the prophet was sent to rebuke his sin, instead of killing him with rage (“How dare you talk to your king that way?”) he humbly repented his sin. Truly pious people have the heart of Jesus. They show hearts of humility and compassion, rejoice at doing and seeing good, and their inside and outside match.
Walking in God’s Ways
Today’s scriptures are all about choosing to walk in God’s ways. Deuteronomy says walking in God’s ways will bring blessing and prosperity. Psalm 119 says, “Happy are those who follow God’s law” with their whole heart. Now Christians who hear these messages might think their life’s goal should be following the commandments from the Bible. They might feel self-satisfied at not breaking the law. But is not breaking the law good enough?
According to the teachings of Jesus, it is not good enough to outwardly observe the law while one’s heart is not willing or if one’s heart is full of evil. The concept of sin that Jesus teaches doesn’t end at ‘doing evil’; it includes ‘not doing good.’ And as we learn in today’s gospel text, the heart and the deeds should match.
“You Have Been Taught, But I Say to You”
Matthew chapter 5 is a part of the Sermon on the Mount, which continues till chapter 7. Jesus does a lot of teaching in those three chapters. Today, we witnessed Jesus use a typical Jewish rhetoric of “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …”
“You have been taught not to kill, but not killing is not good enough. You should also not get angry at your siblings or insult them. You have been taught not to commit adultery, but that is not good enough. Being faithful to your spouse should include not looking at others with lust. You have been taught to give your spouse a certificate of divorce when you want to divorce, but that is not good enough; Don’t divorce at all except when they have been unfaithful. You have been taught not to swear falsely. But I tell you not to swear at all. Simply say yes or no.”
Heart of Jesus
As with a lot of other parts of the Bible, I recommend not taking everything literally, not even what Jesus said. The important thing is to understand his intentions and the essence of his messages. Don’t divorce unless your spouse cheated on you? You should divorce if your spouse is abusive, don’t you think?
Anyway, the point of today’s gospel teaching is that simply observing the law is not good enough in God’s community. Our words and actions should be guided by the heart of Jesus. We have to yearn for our hearts to look like Jesus. We can’t say that we are good people simply because we don’t kill, steal, or actively cause others to suffer. If we have the heart of Jesus, we will not end there. We would also actively help those in need and speak out against injustice that causes suffering. We would also not exclude and discriminate against people according to their genders, ethnicities, economic and social statuses, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientations, and so on.
Not doing harm is not enough because if we stay silent at the suffering of others, it is the same as being on the evil side. Let us understand that the blessing or prosperity that are supposed to result in our walking in God’s ways are not about physical, material, and secular success. We know this because the heart of Jesus doesn’t condone greed. The peace and joy of mind and soul is the highest blessing for God’s people. That is our reward for being faithful to God’s ways. As our Methodist father John Wesley said on his death bed, “The best of all is God is with us.”
Honouring Black History Month
February is Black History Month. Honouring Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, Indigenous Month, and Pride Month is so that we can empathize with their marginalized experiences and participate in the healing and reconciliation process. Tolerating our black siblings and thinking that racism is wrong are not good enough for God. Healing starts from empathy and understanding.
Therefore, I challenge all of us today, including myself, to reflect on ourselves. How sincerely do we respect and honour our black siblings? Do we understand both their history of oppression and rich cultural gifts? Do we understand that Africa is not one country or ethnic group? Do we understand that not all black siblings came from Africa? For example, we know that Rev. Franklyn came from Jamaica, which is in the Caribbean. Are we willing to humbly learn from them about their experiences and when we become the perpetrators of microaggression (because none of us are perfect)?
This month, let us reflect on these questions and learn something new about our black siblings: their histories and cultures, and their experiences of injustice. Let us commit ourselves to the works of antiracism and confront our own prejudices not matter how subtle they may be. And let us appreciate the gifts they bring to our society, our church, and our country. Let us yearn for the heart of Jesus in our works for justice and be guided by it.