I have only had the privilege of being at someone’s deathbed when they passed away on two occasions. In both of these moments, they were heavily sedated and died peacefully, not having been able to say anything of consequence in the moments just prior to dying. Hollywood often paints a person’s last words in the seconds just prior to death as a poignant movie moment. As powerful an experience as that must be to witness, I would guess that given current medical treatments, it probably just doesn’t happen all that frequently any more. It challenges us to listen more closely to one another while we are alive, rather than waiting for something exceptional to be said when we die.
Sunday’s Gospel gives us some of Jesus’ most famous words, but with a twist. Jesus’ words from the cross at the moment of his death are well known, but these other words in Matthew chapter 5 should be seen in a similar light. These challenging words of Jesus are shared by him not as he is about to die, but rather knowing full well that he will in fact be killed for saying them. In this teaching of Jesus he juxtaposes the teaching of the Law (“You have heard it said…”) with a teaching of his own (“But I say to you…”). With this construction and these 5 powerful words, Jesus in effect signs his own death warrant. To place his words above the Law of Moses was blasphemous and Jesus knew all too well what the consequences would be. If Jesus knows he will be killed for saying it, doesn’t it raise the importance of this teaching to that of something greater than a deathbed declaration?
Turn the other cheek; everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart; do not swear at all; these and a number of other difficult teachings of Jesus often get blown off as fodder for the super religious. But I say to you they are something more, they are the teachings Jesus sacrificed his life to share with us. To me, that makes them worth memorizing and working on daily, much the same way I would never forget the last words of a loved one. 5 Powerful Words indeed: But I say to you… He really said them, and he really said them to me and to you, and he was killed because he said them to us. Shall we consider them anew?
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