Proper 2: Deuteronomy 30.15-end; 1 Corinthians 3.1-9;
Almighty God, who alone can bring order to the unruly wills
and passions of sinful humanity: give your people grace so to love
what you command and to desire what you promise, that, among the
many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
THIS week, we hear, as we did last week, about God's
commandments. The readings are demanding. Moses, in his farewell
address, set a stark choice before the perverse people whom he had
shepherded through the wilderness for years: life or death.
It seems like a waste of words on his part; for who would not
choose life and prosperity? But with the choice of life came
responsibilities: obedience, love, and steadfastness. The
experience of Moses was that these were not the people's strong
By asking them to make a choice, he asked them to be mature
people, taking responsibility for their future. He had led them
from slavery; now they had to choose to live as free people,
realising the consequences of their choices and actions.
Paul wrote to equally challenging people, who seemed to be
unaware of their immaturity. The rest of the letter spells out some
consequences of their choice of life in Christ Jesus, requiring
them to make radical changes to their communal life. For now, Paul
pointed them to God, who gives the growth in their lives, as he and
they worked together to bring about their spiritually maturity.
Part of the Corinthians' problem was their division, which
denied their unity in Christ. They were jealous and quarrelled,
behaving according to human inclinations rather than with the mind
of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16). Relationships had broken down, as
they identified themselves divisively with Paul and Apollos, not
grasping their modelling of what it meant to be God's servants
rather than human leaders.
Jesus gave more examples of broken or distorted relationships,
which result in murder, anger, adultery, divorce, and swearing
oaths. He was nothing if not realistic about the field into which
he was sowing the seeds of God's Kingdom. Sadly, the situation is
little changed today, even if the details differ: the dreadful
situation created by Bishop Nolbert Kunonga in Zimbabwe, where
people could not even offer gifts at the altar, is an extreme
example, but, tragically, the Church abounds with less dramatic
Although Jesus used a figure of speech when speaking of cutting
off a hand, he drew on his hearers' knowledge that such physical
mutilation precluded participation in Old Testament worship
(Leviticus 21.5, 17-23). In God's Kingdom come among them, worship
no longer required physical perfection, but perfection of life.
In Matthew, Jesus more than once calls for radical action in
order to meet God's standards of righteousness. He repeated these
exhortations about cutting off anything that causes us to sin
(Matthew 18.8-9), and later (Matthew 23.16-22) called woes on the
Pharisees and hypocrites for failing to do what he taught here.
This was clearly an enormously serious matter for Jesus: the
coming of God's Kingdom is no soft option. The pure in heart will
see God (Matthew 5.8), and purity of heart, as Kierkegaard said, is
to will one thing: in this context, to be perfect as our heavenly
Father is perfect (Matthew 5.48).
This pursuit of purity of heart is not a cause for despair at
the enormity of the demands. There is a possible way. Jesus models
another attitude of total commitment to God, and assumed that his
disciples could and would live differently, even at great cost to
themselves. They could choose life with all its consequences
because, as Moses told the people (Deuteronomy 30.6), God would
circumcise their hearts, causing them to love God.
The collect, as so often, is a helpful prayer in the light of
the challenge of the readings. We have unruly wills and passions -
ask Paul about that, as he wrote to the Corinthians - to which only
God can bring order. God does it by giving us grace to love what he
commands, and to desire what he promises, so that we find,
increasingly, that we want to fix our hearts on him. As we pursue
God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we will be
Archbishop William Temple's words are apposite to this week's
readings, as we reflect on how the way we live reflects our
relationship with God. He reminds us that the inclination of our
heart towards God is what directs our living. "It is sometimes
supposed that conduct is primary and worship tests it. That is
incorrect: the truth is that worship is primary and conduct tests