Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

When you are sick or not feeling well, what are some of the things that help you to feel better?

Going Viral

Currently, the Wuhan coronavirus is one of the biggest stories in world news.  At the time of this writing, the number of confirmed cases in China has surpassed 20,000, with at least 207 other cases being reported in over two dozen countries.  Doubtless ,by the time you are reading this, many more people will have been sickened by this potentially deadly disease.

Part of what makes this virus so frightening to world health officials is that it is new, so little is known about how best to treat it.  Add this uncertainty to global mass movement and travel, and there is the potential for a worldwide pandemic.  Because of this, several countries, the United States included, have evacuated their citizens from impacted areas and have imposed strict travel restrictions as a way of hopefully containing the virus’ spread.  Even so, global impacts from this crisis have already begun to ripple outward.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you heard about the Wuhan coronavirus?  If so, are you worried about it?  Why /why not?
  • In the years 1918-19, well before ocean-crossing airliners and other high-speed transportation, a flu pandemic infected nearly 30% of the world’s population.  Over 50 million people died.  What are some of the challenges involved these days in dealing with deadly viruses and so-called “superbugs”?

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

These days we often hear about items such as videos going “viral.”  Shared easily via email or social media, they spread rapidly from person to person reaching millions within a matter of days.  In a similar (though much slower) way, the impact of sin can also go viral, spreading out in ever widening circles.  In our gospel, Jesus attacks the root of the problem in several common life experiences, inviting us to become people of wholeness and grace.

We return this week to the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus teaches about what life in the kingdom of heaven looks like.  Specifically, these verses (Matt. 5:21-37) are part of a six-section set that is known traditionally as “the antitheses,” which means “contrasts” or “oppositions.”  This set, which also includes verses 38-48, is so named for the pattern which Jesus uses to introduce each section: “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you….”  And though in each case Jesus addresses a specific commandment or teaching from Torah, it is not because he thought them obsolete or useless. After all, Jesus has come to fulfill the law, not to throw it out. (Matt. 5:17).

No, Jesus has not come to abolish the law, still, in each case, he goes deeper into their true intent. So, for instance, he cuts murder off at its roots, teaching us instead to deal appropriately with our anger.  Just think of how easily situations escalate and spiral out of control, between individuals, different groups, and nations when anger flows into insults and disregard.  Jesus calls us to deal with our internal “stuff” before  our words can cause injury to another person.  Reconciliation and forgiveness, this is the true and godly work we are to pursue.

Likewise, Jesus attacks the root of adultery by setting boundaries around lust. In the over-the-top, hyperbole of plucking out eyes and cutting off hands, he calls us to take care that neither our gaze nor our touch turns other people into objects for our own sexual gratification.  Included in these limits is the need to abstain from the all too available trap of pornography.  “Just looking” is not okay.

When it comes to divorce, Jesus goes further than the law (Deut. 24:1), especially in protecting those who were often the most vulnerable in the marriage covenant.  In his time and culture, it was “legal” for a man to easily divorce his wife for just about any reason.  This left her without means of support, which often meant poverty, prostitution, or, if she were fortunate, remarriage.  Jesus, however, points to God’s original intention regarding marriage as that of life-long monogamy.  Sometimes, of course, the healthiest course of action is for a marriage to end.  Even so, Jesus’ teaching on the intended enduring nature of marriage is clear.

And finally, in a world of “spin,” misinformation, and downright lies, we are called to be people of truth.  To avoid swearing falsely, don’t swear oaths at all.  That is, instead of needing to prop up our credibility by swearing oaths and making promises, Jesus’ teaches us to be the kind of people others can trust.  Tell the truth.  Live with integrity.  “Let your word be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no;’ anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

As commentators on Matthew’s gospel note, Jesus isn’t unique in setting boundaries against the impact of sin by going deeper into the intent of the Ten Commandments and Torah.  Other teachers have done the same.  Even so, as Son of God and Messiah, Jesus’ words have a different level of authority for Christians.  Ultimately, what is presented in this passage – and indeed, in the whole of the Sermon on the Mount – is not a new take on the Law, but a call to a whole new way of life.

Discussion Questions

  • As you read through these verses, what are some of the things you find most challenging? Most helpful?
  • Is it possible  to do the things Jesus calls for?  Wholly possible? Totally impossible?  Or Somewhere in-between?  Invite participants to share the reason for their answer.
  • If the gospel is supposed to be “good news,” then where do you find grace in this passage and for whom?  
  • How might living more in line with Jesus’ teachings here make for a better life?  A better world?

Activity Suggestions

  • Read through Martin Luther’s explanation of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism.   For each Commandment note how Luther expands and deepens the meaning.  What are some of the “practical” day-to-day actions you notice?
  • Invite participants to consider one area, either from the Catechism or from today’s gospel, that they can work on.  What is one small step, one small action, that they might take in this area in the coming week?  If people are comfortable, have them share. Prayer for each other and the Spirit’s help.  

Closing Praye

Gracious and loving God, source of every good gift, give us eyes to see your love in Jesus’ call to lives of grace and wholeness, and lead us by your Holy Spirit as we seek to follow. In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.