Once there were two people, one younger and one older, sitting in a kitchen. The younger was talking about some of the poor actions they were currently making. Showing up late for work. Eating the last slice of cake at home. Saying some mean things to a friend.
“Are you not concerned,” said the older, “how your actions will affect others?”
“Ah,” said the younger, “I can just say sorry, and it will all be better.”
The older, seeing a teaching lesson, picked up a plate that was going to be thrown away. “Take this plate and break on the floor.”
“Really?” The younger looked at the plate. Normally one was punished for intentionally breaking things in the house.
“Really,” said the older.
So with glee the younger threw the plate against the floor, and it cracked and split into a hundred different pieces.
The older pointed down to the mess, “Did it break?”
The younger gave the older a strange look. “Yeah. Do you see it?”
The older replied, “Now tell the plate sorry for breaking it.”
The younger looked at the older like he was mad. “Are you serious?”
“Very,” the older said.
“Um, I'm sorry for breaking you.”
The older looked down at the mess, back up to the younger, and back down to the mess. “Did it go back to the way it was before you broke it?”
“Of course not!,” said the younger. “I broke it! Saying sorry to it isn't going to fix what I did!”
The Older nodded, “Relationships are as fragile as that plate you broke. We have to treat them with care or they will crack and break. Apologizing is important, but it is only the first step to a much deeper process. It is better to take care of the relationship to begin with, then get to point where you are picking up sharp pieces of where a relationship used to be. Do you understand?
“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.
“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.
I know how this scripture has been used traditionally. Back when I was a child my family went through a very messy divorce. My mom had an affair. Both of my parents agreed to get a divorce. The custody battle was absolutely terrible. It was bad enough the judge ordered the records to be sealed for no other reason than to protect my sister and myself from the information included in it. A couple of years after my dad won custody the dust settled, Dad fell in love, and wanted to remarry. At the time, our church had an interim pastor. I have to give him credit. He stood for what he believed in, and what he believed in was a face value interpretation of what Jesus was saying. Dad never had the opportunity to share why he divorced Mom. Dad wouldn't have known there was that kind of caveat to divorce. Infidelity. This minister was more concerned with keeping the letter of the law instead of understanding the person and what he or she needed.
I also attended a church once that the only way to take communion was to be complete free of sin. Come to God like a stainless clothe or don't come at all.
While I understand the motivations of both pastors, I don't think Jesus would have approved. What would be the point of everything Jesus was doing, if nothing he was doing was new? Things were off track in Jesus' time. The Priests were ignoring the people in order to follow the law. It was too difficult to connect with God if you were not born Jewish. There was no redemption for those who messed up. I firmly believe part of the reason Jesus came was to teach this lesson: The law was created to make it easier for the people to connect with God and one another. Fulfilling the law was all about getting to the point of why the laws existed to begin with.
See, when I think about this scripture I don't get caught up in adultery and divorce. I get caught up at the end where Jesus says, “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. But I say to you that you must not pledge at all... Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
This immediately makes me think of the commandment, “Do not take the Lord's name in vain.” See, this is more than just not using God's names as curse words. Back when the commandment was written the Lord's name was used to seal contracts. Marriage was one of those contracts. When I married my husband, I was married with God as our witness. We made a contract using God's name. Now, there are many ways a marriage contract can take the use of God's name in vain. Infidelity. Putting wants above the family or spouse. This is the one no one thinks about- the contract is in vain from the beginning because the two parties didn't take it seriously to begin with. (A case of 'yes' meaning 'but' and 'no' meaning 'well, that person was really attractive.'
This is what Jesus was getting to: the fragile nature of relationship. Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no, because this is love we are talking about! If you break it, it stays broken. On some level, you might be able to apologize or super glue it back together, but it doesn't change the fact it had been broken. Let you yes mean yes and your no mean no because otherwise you are liable to create false contracts with God and take the Lord's name in vain. Don't make a pledge at all if you don't really mean it. This is true for more than marriage. Don't build friendships on false promises. Don't sign a contract with anyone: your minister, your lawn care company, the terms and conditions of your Facebook App, unless you are understanding what you are agreeing to and willing to live up to the stipulations of that agreement.
Yes. We are going to fall short. Yes. We are going to hurt others. This scripture isn't about making us perfect. (Hint: We cannot come to the Lord's table perfectly.) God knows, we are not perfect. None of us are. This is about mitigating the damage. This is about stopping things before they have a chance to break God's precious children. In some ways, this about realizing where we dropped the plate and realizing just saying sorry isn't going to fix the damage. What's this really about? It's about mourning how we failed and making better choices for the future.
You can't change that something was broken. You can be more careful and intentional about how you treat the relationships in the future. That's the point. That's what we need to take from this. Do you understand?