Matthew 5:21-24, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.”
Jesus knew all about religious professionals. It was the professionals who were usually questioning him and his disciples about one regulation or the other on ritual purity or his own authority. He knew the game, following certain rules and using the right language could make you very religious, but though he valued those same traditions and valued religiosity, he never let it become elevated over the value of people. So he touched the untouchable. He associated with the social pariah. He told parables like “The Good Samaritan” which seemed to break down ethnic and religious barriers. He repeatedly healed on the sabbath.
Our final passage is a message to the religious professional in each of us. When we begin to value our religion above people, we begin to go through the motions even while our relationships are crumbling all around us. We can go to the altar to leave a gift and bless God, all the while ignoring the lack of blessing happening between us and our sisters and brothers. Jesus says, “Stop! Don’t go to play church when you know you have some rebuilding to do with your brother or your sister. Church just doesn’t work when valued above and outside your relationships.” (That was my paraphrase.)
What is civility to a Christian? Is it the recognition that we speak and act as reconcilers, seeking to break down the barriers and reconnect to one another. Civility is never just an “elective class” we can catch one semester or simply ignore and still graduate without it. It’s not an extracurricular activity. We speak and act to reconcile and remain reconciled. We are not called to be barrier builders. We are not called to giving insults, to humiliating or to tearing others down. We are called to restoration, restoring our broken selves one to another.
This is the way a person of faith goes about civility, recognizing that we’re maintaining some of the most important stuff that Jesus has called us to be and do. Civility is not our religion, but our religion leads us to be civil. God has never called us separate from one another, but together. Let us then see to it that our religion is pure and true to the value of one another. Let us show how people of faith live and breathe a civility that reconciles us to one another, mutually encourages one another, and gives everlasting glory to our great God. We’ll close the month of exploring our Christian scriptures with three final selections from Micah, Jesus and Peter.
From Micah, Micah 6:6-8
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
From Jesus, John 13:34&35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
From Peter, 1 Peter 3:8-11
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘Whoever among you would love life and see good days must keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.'”