I am not a fan of the Love Island TV series – I may have watched about 10 seconds of it – but I am sad to learn that that another young person associated with it – this time its former presenter Caroline Flack – has taken her own life. As we will pray later in the Intercessions, may the Lord look gently upon her, welcome her into his peace and comfort her family and friends.
The ‘transactions’ that occur on Love Island seem at first glance to be far removed from Our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount which we have just heard. Here Jesus teaches how to live a moral life if one is to be in a right relationship with God be part of His kingdom. And, yet, on closer examination, perhaps his demanding teaching is more relevant to these healthy young people – as to us – than we might at first think …
For instance, Jesus declares that real anger is as grave a crime as murder. He reinterprets the fifth commandment – you shall not kill – so that it embraces all those feelings and emotions of which murder is the outcome. Instead, he asks us to control anger so that it does not become violent or self-destructive. And he strongly recommends that when relationships break down we seek reconciliation, warning that an unforgiving spirit comes between us and the God we would worship.
Like murder, Jesus says, adultery starts in the heart. The sixth commandment – you shall not commit adultery – is re-interpreted by him to reach to all thoughts and desires that lead to sexual sin. The true spirit of the law, he says, demands more from us than merely refraining from the sexual act. Jesus is not being a kill-joy here or condemning the involuntary act of being attracted to someone. For him, the problem arises when we consciously move to actually desire that person. So to keep the spirit of the law against adultery, Jesus asks us to keep it in our heart as well as in our outward behavior.
‘One must have firmly in mind that Jews, as a Jew, had a positive and healthy approach to human sexuality. There is no trace, in his teaching, of the neurosis that was to mark, so sadly, a prevalent strain in Christin attitudes to sexuality. ~ Wilfrid J Harrington OP
Judaism permitted divorce. There were two schools of opinion regarding grounds for it – the conservative school recognized sexual misconduct on the woman’s part as the only reason for divorce; the more progressive school allowed divorce for other reasons, for example if a wife spoiled a meal. (Yes, it was a man’s world.) When Jesus is asked elsewhere about divorce it is to determine if he is for the conservative or liberal interpretation that allows it. When pressed, Jesus takes the far more radical stance of revoking the law that permits divorce.
By the time St Matthew’s Gospel was written – about 50/60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus – the early Christian Church made accommodations for divorce and allowed it for certain (restricted) reasons. So in spite of Jesus’ teaching, divorce was a fact of life for people in the early Church. In our time it is even more so and is an issue our Church has been struggling with for a long, long time.
Can the Church today learn anything from the early Church ‘adapting’ or ‘lessening’ the full force of Jesus’ teaching? For instance, just how do we uphold the principle of Christian marriage – between one man and one woman, and for life – while at the same time supporting the numerous people who have gone through a divorce and found another partner? How can our Church better respond to the reality of same-sex marriage and the people involved in such relationships? How can we show Christ’s compassion, and be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, and be less judgemental and more welcoming?
Meanwhile … if you are striving to follow Christ and you are divorced, remarried, lesbian, gay or another form of gender, it is important you know that you are not a second class citizen in Christ’s kingdom, nor are you so in the Church. It is the duty (and the immense challenge) of your Church to be the one place where you are understood, accepted and loved for who and what you are.
And if you feel welcome and accepted here or in another parish, then maybe you would consider taking this ‘good news’ to people you know who have become frustrated, alienated, hurt and wounded by the Church? Together we could bring them the love and hope of Jesus Christ?
The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … ~ Pope Francis
Heal the wounds, heal the wounds … although we all bear wounds of one kind or another in our personal lives, these do not have to prevent us from responding to the Pope’s challenge … we can be ‘wounded healers’.
Holy Name, Jesmond
16 February 2019