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Sans Serif

Sans Serif

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 – 4 Easter, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49, (53) (evening)

Exodus 33:1-23

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Matthew 5:17-20

I feel a little guilty typing these thoughts in a sans serif font. Why? Because according to today’s gospel passage, every law, every letter, and even every “stroke of a letter” from the Hebrew Scriptures is essential to the community for whom Matthew’s gospel was written. Sometimes translated as a “tittle,” not one tiny serif can be dismissed or erased from the law or the prophets. Every tittle matters, keeping God’s people connected to the ways that would lead them into life.

Yet this attitude toward the jots and tittles of the law seems so antithetical to other versions of the gospel. Where the gospel message speaks to me of freedom from legalistic requirements, this passage warns that “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments . . . will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” At least this verse leaves room for us law-breakers to get into the kingdom, even if we have to be low-ranking!

But then the so-called “good news” gets worse. Whereas other gospel parables and proclamations undermine people’s attempts at self-righteousness, this passage warns that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Well, there go MY chances of getting into the kingdom.

As I read this passage, it helps me to remember who these words are for. Yes, these words of Jesus run the risk of reinforcing religious tendencies toward meticulous rule-following and competitive acts of righteousness. But, at the time they were written, these words must have brought deep reassurance to a community that wanted to embrace Jesus while remaining fully identified with their inheritance as God’s people. They needed continuity in their faith, not an abrupt departure.

Our portion of the Psalm for this morning helps us to see the depth of love that God’s people held toward the law, and the desire they must have had to cherish each jot and tittle. The Psalmist sings about the comfort God’s law gives when people are far from home or from other signs of God’s stable presence: “Your statutes have been like songs to me, wherever I have lived as a stranger.”

The Psalmist also sings of the law’s power to deliver us: “Though the cords of the wicked entangle me, I do not forget your law.” And the Psalmist finds nothing more precious or of more enduring value than God’s law: “The law of your mouth is dearer to me than thousands in gold and silver.”

Although I struggle with these seemingly legalistic words of Matthew’s gospel, I am trying to read them through the lens of love that the gospel’s audience had for the law and the prophets. Indeed, the law and the prophets are full of brilliant gems that teach us the life-giving ways of justice. And, of course,

the Psalmist ultimately connects God’s law with God’s love: “The earth, O Lord, is full of your love; instruct me in your statutes.”

The earliest Christians wrestled with the question of how to relate God’s law to God’s love, and Matthew’s gospel offers primarily Jewish Christians the reassurance that by following Jesus, they could also fulfill the law. Today, may we too fall in love with God’s life-giving ways and cherish every single serif that reveals them to us.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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