A Word to the Ancient Ones

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany  |  Matthew 5:21-37

They stood on that mountain, sat there, lay there, a great crowd, and all of them so quiet that you could have closed your eyes and thought yourself alone. The only sound beyond the wind on the rocks was the voice of the man speaking.

Mountains with Blowing RockHe reminded them of what they knew, what had been told to the ancient ones, a people gathered centuries earlier at the base of another mountain covered in smoke and clouds. Moses had brought them words from God the Almighty, words to drag them out of their dark bondage and to lift them slowly to become a new people.

Thou shalt not. That was what Moses had told the ancient ones. Thou shalt not.

They forgot, of course. They forgot the rules, forgot the telling of them, sometimes one rule or two, and sometimes they forgot them all in a rush to satiate their needs, their lusts, their anger, their rights. And that had been when the rules were new and simple and fresh upon their minds.

The rules weren’t new to the crowd on the mountain with Jesus. They had heard the rules all of their lives, knew all the ramifications, all the ways one could fail. The law had become a ponderous thing since the days of the ancients, as though it were alive, growing, full of snares and loopholes. Surely, they must have thought, this man can give us some relief, some easier way to live.

No. He seems to want to make their path more narrow. It is no longer their choices that are wrong, it is their thoughts.

Pluck out your eyes, he says. Cut off your hands, if it will save you. And keep your bothersome wives. Surely he goes too far, says crazy things? “But I say to you,” he says. He thinks he has more authority than Moses. Who is he to tell us these things?

But they are quiet on the mountain, and they are still listening.

Later, they know by the silence that he has finished. They gather themselves and walk back down the mountain. Some of them whisper to one another, others mumble like the ancient ones themselves did so long ago. All of them look back to get one more glimpse of Jesus, but he is already walking away, hard to see through the band of followers.

A boy climbs onto a rock for a look, and his father waits for him.

“Does he mean it?” he asks. “Is it better to cut off our hands?” He looks down at his own hands, rubs one with the fingers of the other.

“No,” his father says. “He only told us that to make us think.”