Reflections for the Week of Sunday February 19, 2017 Seventh after Epiphany

Gospel: Mt 5.38-48 is Jesus’ famous emendation of the Lex Talionis, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, referring to the “law of retaliation.” This may seem severe to us but it was an amelioration in the sense that the punishment “fit the crime.” In ancient societies (and maybe some not so ancient) it was common to kill your enemy for an injury. But Jesus is teaching non-violence, which is an extension of forgiveness. He is not only teaching but demonstrating that love and all that this entails is a much greater power than all the dark powers of the world. This is so radical that many people think it is naive and impractical. But Jesus lived this code out: when slapped by the Roman guards and the high priests, He turned the other cheek; when the Romans took His tunic, He didn’t resist; when they forced Him to carry the cross along the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, He complied. He gave people what they needed even though they didn’t want His saving grace, and He lay down His life for them. He loved His enemies who crucified Him and He forgave them. Jesus is laying down the way people are to behave in the kingdom of God which He devoted His life (and death) to implementing.

The kingdom of God is what Jesus’ life was all about and it was inaugurated when He became King which He did on the cross with “King of the Jews” placarded over Him. The kingdom of God is what the Old Testament was pointing to all along but was never able to finish the narrative until Jesus came as the Representative of Israel who acted as a Substitute for the sins of the people. His purpose was more than merely providing His people with the opportunity to go to a disembodied heaven after death, but to give them a life manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22, 23) and the Beatitudes (Mt 5.3-12) in this life and the mandate to act as a royal priesthood to extend the kingdom to others. This is the meaning of the Lord’s Pryer which says, “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom is a matter of bringing the heavens down to earth rather than sending souls to heaven. Going to a disembodied heaven is what Plato was talking about, not the Scriptures. The ultimate goal is resurrection life lived out in the new heavens and new earth when the Lord returns (Isa 65.17; 66.22; Pet 3.13; Rev 21.1ff.). But our present life is to hold heaven and earth together as we make a new Temple of the world ministered to by renewed human beings who are a royal priesthood indwell by the Holy Spirit. They stand at the intersection of the two spheres, heaven (God’s space) and earth (our space). Jesus’ followers, His renewed people, are devoted to worshipping God who not only created the world but re-created it with a heavenly dimension that renewed people can enjoy during this life (Col 3.1ff.) because their sins have been forgiven, they are beloved of God, they have peace regardless of circumstances, and will dwell in the new heaven and new earth after the resurrection. and now for the remainder of this life we can worship our God and lay down our lives for others as Jesus taught us. We can make disciples (and be discipled by others) so that through Christian fellowship we may grow in the Lord while extending His kingdom as He has commanded us (Mt 28.18-20). Which is an appropriate response for the seventh Sunday of Epiphany, devoted to manifesting the saving Presence of Jesus, the King of all creation, to the world.

Memory Verse: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you (Mt 6.33).

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