Sermon for Epiphany 6A – February 12th 2023


Alfred Hitchcock, 1954 – Dial M for Murder!

I wonder if you remember that classic thriller starring Grace Kelly as the leading lady?

It’s a story of lust, adultery and murder!

Kelly’s character is married to an English tennis player, but falls for another man and begins an amorous affair with him. The tennis player finds out and in a fit of jealous anger, engages the services of a small time villain to murder his wife. However, things don’t quite go as planned – but I’m not going to spoil it for you – you’ll have to watch the film to find out just how!

A story of lust! A story of adultery! Dial M for Murder!

Or should it be Dial M for Matthew?

And specifically Matthew, chapter 5 v 21-37. Because it’s here, in our gospel for today, that we find Jesus speaking about lust, adultery and murder (amongst other things) and presenting us with some harsh realities about the damage that we can cause to others as a result of our anger and the abuse of special relationships that we have with them.

Harsh realities about the harm that we can cause to ourselves and others when we crave for things we can’t have or when we compromise the trust people have placed in us.

Harsh realities about the commitments we make and then break in our daily lives.

Jesus’ teaching challenged the Rabbis and the people of Israel about their rigid and narrow interpretations of the ancient Jewish law passed down through Moses. They are stuck in the past. And Jesus, teaching challenges us too, because sometimes, so are we.

St Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians, challenges his listeners in much the same way. He tells the Corinthians that they are stuck in the past. Their behaviour determined by their unforgiving and uncharitable ways, ‘Behaving according to human inclinations.’ They have failed to realise how the message of the Cross has brought in a new way of defining and pursuing a forgiving and loving life in Christ and so Paul urges the Corinthians to change their thinking and their actions.

I read a story recently about Alexander III, Tsar of Russia from 1881-1894. He was known as a harsh individual who would abuse others with his thinking and actions. His rule was marked by autocratic leadership and repression, and in particular, by his persecution of the Jews. However, his wife, Maria, provided a stark contrast, being known especially for her generosity to those in need.

On one occasion, it is said, her husband had signed an order consigning a prisoner to life in exile. The order simply read, Pardon impossible, ‘prisoner x’ to be condemned and sent to Siberia. Maria changed that prisoner’s life by simply moving a comma. She altered the order and changed the meaning to Pardon, impossible ‘prisoner x’ to be condemned and sent to Siberia. A small action that had a huge impact for one human being.

In Matthew 5 Jesus teaches the meaning of his beatitudes which is the beginning of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. A proclamation of God’s loving kingdom and the moral compass for Christian discipleship.

In Christ, God has changed and moved the comma that stood against us to the good news of salvation. Christ’s sacrificial saving act for humanity; One action with a huge impact for us all.

Pardon, (insert your name here) impossible to condemn.

New thinking, new disciples, a new focus from Jesus, a new covenant.

Jesus in his teaching calls us to a new life in God and gifts us freedom to choose a new broader way of thinking about the Jewish laws of Moses. He uses examples in every-day life as a grounding to build his case to move thinking and actions towards righteousness. He intensifies and radicalises those familiar laws from the Old Testament for those who listen and extends their purpose into every facet of their lives.

In the very first line of our reading Jesus takes his readers far beyond traditional teachings of the Torah: He says, ‘You have heard it said, ‘But I say to you, Murder is a failure to control anger or hatred and a failure to value life. A murderous heart, he tells them, carries the same motive as the act of killing itself.

Not all anger is bad though. Jesus gets angry, you do and so do I. In chapter 21 Jesus is angry with the money changers in the Temple and drives out all those who are buying and selling animals and goods. Sometimes anger has very real and positive purposes. But Jesus is not referring to anger like this. He is referring to anger that is driven by self-interest. The kind of anger that creates real suffering for others.

And it’s the same with adultery – ‘You have heard it said, but I say to you.’ Jesus again deepens the interpretation. Adultery is first committed in the heart, through a gaze, in the mind. The woman, the man, already violated. A partnership, a marriage threatened, sinned against before the act.

Divorce – the same – pain and betrayal for someone.

Your very words, your very thoughts, Jesus says, should be full of truthfulness and integrity. Constantly striving for godliness in all things.

Now let’s be clear, Jesus is not issuing a new law. He is sharing interpretations of that law with the authority of God. He deepens the meaning and broadens it. He opens the door to new understanding. He looks behind the acts to the roots of what causes the action. And, each action in turn is condemned as is the betrayal that lies deep inside a person.

Jesus is saying ‘sort it out before it goes too far’.

Make peace with one another and forgive.

In Christ, God changed the comma that stood against us. To the good news of salvation, Christ’s sacrificial saving act for humanity; Pardon, impossible to condemn.

One action, with a huge impact for us all.

Jesus calls us to a new life in God and gifts us the freedom to choose a new broader way of thinking about the laws of Moses.

And at the heart of his teaching in Matthew 5 is the concern about the damage we cause through our anger, our abuse of others and the harm we cause when we stand on the moral high ground of what we consider to be right and wrong.

And today?

We can of course pat ourselves on the back for not committing adultery, but consider this – might you be creating a principle relationship with our work, a sport or the internet, instead of with your partner or spouse. We may not commit murder or stab someone literally in the back, but we might ruin someone’s efforts or reputation through our words. We might not abuse someone openly, but we might damage someone with a suggestion that they are not up to a job, when we know really that it’s more to do with our own inner struggle than the other person’s very real God given gifts, skills and abilities.

We can be like Alexander III or the Rabbis and people of Israel and remain stuck in the past with unforgiving and uncharitable thinking within our hearts. Or we can choose to be more like Maria, who’s forgiving and charitable thinking and actions changed a prisoner’s life by simply moving a comma. We can choose to accept Jesus new covenant, accept that saving act of salvation in Christ and move away from the human inclination to unforgiving and uncharitable ways.

Jesus tells us to sort it out before it goes too far. Make peace with one another.

Are you truly hearing and understanding the message of Jesus and the need for a right relationship with God? Or are you still stuck in the past? Are you moving that comma and ushering in Christ’s new deeper way of thinking, opening the door from the Old to the New and striving for forgiveness and reconciliation as part of your everyday life.

Where do you place your comma both for others and yourself?

Pardon impossible, to be condemned.


Pardon, impossible to be condemned.


Fr Simon

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