Today’s readings from Leviticus and Matthew talk about the laws for a just society — both as those laws were initially handed down by God and as they were subsequently interpreted. However, for these laws to work, the people must be holy. In other words, they must be like God (Lev. 19:2, Matt. 5:48).
Jesus’ words break the connection between law and holiness. The people are not holy because of the law. Rather, the people are holy because they are of God. But Jesus goes a step further. He bypasses the legalism of the Scribes and Pharisees and reestablishes the people’s direct relationship to God. In our own day, we should remember that law has no power to turn wrong into right, just as it had no power to make Israel holy.
As a true “son of the Father” Jesus himself prays for his persecutors (Matt. 5:44, Luke 23:34); when he is arrested, he does not take matters into his own hands (Matt. 26:53); when he is brought to trial, he does not invoke his own divine privilege (Matt. 26:62-63); when his blood is shed, it is poured out like eternal life-giving sunshine and rain upon the just and unjust for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28). As Christians, we become holy and perfect like God by imitating this gracious example of Jesus Christ.
Preached by the Rev. Jake Dell on February 19, 2017 at Holy Trinity Church Inwood.