(Matthew 5:17-19) [10 June 2020]
The subject chosen for this meditation, first glance, seems that involves many pitfalls. We know that Jesus often came into conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees because they put their rules above what God requires of us. The difficulty lies in the fact that they invoked teachings from the Law of Moses as the foundation of what they proposed. But this is nothing new. We know Jesus’ answer when they invoke the rules of the Law of Moses (John 7:19; 23; 8:5; Matthew 19:1-12, etc.): “It was because you were so hard-hearted” (Matthew 19:8b). With Jesus’ answer, I don’t think we need to look for explanations as to why people use all sorts of explanations to motivate their unjust actions. We also know that it is even more painful when religious foundations are used for injustice.
But if we read the proposed text as the basis of our meditation for this week, it might seem surprising. We can read that Jesus says: “truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Does Jesus speak of all the legal norms of human societies? Let us look deeper into the words of Jesus, into his teaching.
For this it is not necessary to leaf through the whole Holy Scripture. What we need is also found in a discussion between Jesus and the Sadducees and Jewish scholars of his day. Once again, they wanted to put Jesus to the test, as always when it came to the rules they preached. They asked him what the greatest commandment is. Jesus’ answer is taken literally from the Law of Moses: Love God with all your being and your neighbour as yourself (see Matthew 22:35-40). And after this emphasis, Jesus concludes with a very strong sentence: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”. It is easy to understand that Jesus makes it clear that any law or rule that contradicts these two golden rules is unjust. And again it is easy to understand that when Jesus speaks of the fact that the smallest norm in the law or comma will come to pass, he speaks of everything that leads to the fulfillment of the two commandments: Love God with all your being and your neighbour as yourself. There are no priorities, there are no secondary places, there is no a rota of what must be fulfilled today and what must be left for tomorrow.
These days I had a few exchanges with a friend about what is happening in the world now, after the brutal murder of George Floyd. He asked me how I consider the movement’s slogan: Black Live Matters. I asked him to be patient to explain myself before he thought I don’t understand the gravity of the situation.
I started from the fundamental truth that every life matters. He replied that the current situation requires us to focus on the lives of those with black skin, because the one who was killed reminds of the injustices brought to those like him. And now we must put an end to these injustices. He is absolutely right. He is absolutely right about the injustices suffered by the Afro-Americans. But this does not mean that today or any other day we must make an exception to the basic rule: every life matters.
He was very upset with me and started to get angry, explaining that I didn’t understand the situation. Without losing my composure, I explained to him that the root of evil lies in the fact that we humans have always believed that yesterday, today, or tomorrow, something would take precedence over something else. Slave traffickers thought it normal to believe that they were more important in those days than those they trafficked. Their lives mattered then. They forgot one thing: every life matters. One of the greatest evils in human history has found its place here.
And one more thing, in the same time when the slogan “Black Live Matters” was displayed, it was destroyed the memorial of the millions of victims of communism in the world. And their lives matter too. There is no time in which to say that a life in a body with a skin of a certain colour or another matters. Every life always matters.
This is what Jesus means: to love God and neighbour is no exception or priority for today or tomorrow. A list of today’s and tomorrow’s priorities cannot be made. The law of love must be obeyed in relation to everyone, every day. Every life matters. Love is a commandment we must keep to all, all the time. Not especially today for someone, and tomorrow for someone else. I don’t know who proposed the “BLM” slogan. But it seems that he or she did not understand that the exceptions caused so much suffering and will continue to cause, if we do not understand this.
(Revd. Bernard Noghiu – Southend on Sea, 8th June 2020).