Message: “Getting to the Roots of Our Problems” from Matthew Dyer

A message from the series “Inside Out and Upside Down.” Jesus was a spiritual leader and teacher rooted in his Hebrew tradition. He was Jewish through and through, and the Gospel of Matthew portrays him as a rabbi—but a different kind of rabbi. To that end, Jesus is a strong advocate of “Torah” (the ancient Hebrew Law) as the means to a meaningful, ethical and fulfilling life. But unlike most other religious authorities, Jesus realizes Torah was not meant to be a set of rules, based on fear, that police our outward behaviors. Rather Torah is best understood as a “Way,” based on love, which helps transform us from the inside out so we can live such a life. Jesus is conscious that the religious way (often symbolized by the Pharisees) is simply not working. Just trying harder to follow rules does not bring the life and health it was supposed to. So Jesus goes to the heart of the matter, reinterprets Torah from the inside out, and addresses the motivations within us. The goal is not another set of religious rules, but harmony with the will and way of God, based on reciprocal love—what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven.

This week we look at Jesus’ teaching in the latter part of Matthew chapter 5, where he addresses various outward behaviors that represent the broken nature of the human condition. He talks about murder, adultery, relational abuse, deceitfulness, revenge and hatred. It’s quite an extreme and scary list, such that Jesus says many will indeed declare themselves not guilty. But that’s not the point for Jesus. This is not an exhaustive list of “dos and don’ts” but there is a common thread: the way in which all of us have a tendency to dehumanize another person to justify our own actions. So he turns the list upside down and flips it inside out by tracing this motivation and attitude of dehumanization into the inner world of every one of us. We all have these tendencies. We may not murder but we all harbor hateful, angry, revengeful thoughts and feelings. We may not commit adultery but that does not mean we don’t objectify people sexually. This is painful to hear, but Jesus is setting a different tone and getting to the real root of our problems for the purpose of healing and wholeness. The tone is love: we are completely loved and accepted, so fear (which focuses on policing our outward behaviors) is no longer the motivation. In an atmosphere of love, we can honestly look at our inner motivations and are empowered to change from the inside out. This is life in the Kingdom of Heaven.