Summary: Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are able to experience lives that are free. We are free from guilt and shame--not because we never sin, but because we are forgiven.
Matthew 5:17-30 “Guilt and Grace”
Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hide, by Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the most popular books of the nineteenth. If you haven’t read the book, you probably have seen the movie. Even if you haven’t seen the movie you know about the twisted and tormented life of a man who personified the battle between good and evil. The books popularity stems from the fact that everyone can identify with Dr. Jekyll and his struggle. Who among us has not fought against the dark side of our lives? None of us have escaped the guilt that floods our souls over that words that we said and the things that we did when Mr. Hyde was in control of our lives.
The guilt that we are talking about today is vividly portrayed in the movie, “I Am David.” It is the story of a 12 year-old boy who escapes from a Cold-War era Bulgarian prison camp. In this scene, David has recently been taken in by a wealthy Italian family after he saved the life of their daughter. (Play Video)
St. Paul sums up our dilemma in his letter to the Romans. In chapter 7 he writes, “The good that I would do, I do not do, and that which I don’t want to do I do. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me?”
COVERING UP GUILT
Humankind has sought to deal with guilt in a number of ways throughout the millennia. None of it is really effective.
• We deny our guilt. We push the dark side of our lives and the evil that we have done so far back out of conscious thought that we begin to believe that it isn’t their. Striving to be good people—good Christians—we begin to bask in our own self-righteousness. Unfortunately, denying our dark side does not get rid of it. Soon or later it is expressed at the most inappropriate times.
• We change the laws. This is what Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading today. We consider the commandments suggestions that are to be observed only when it is convenient. Or, we consider various laws prudish and old fashioned. This isn’t acceptable to God according to this passage of scripture.
• We shame ourselves. We decide that we need to beat ourselves up over the fact that we are sinful people. We tell ourselves that what we did or said was wrong. We convince ourselves that our words and actions demonstrate that we are terrible people, unworthy of our love, the love of other people, or even the love of God.
• We blame others. The comedian, Flip Wilson was famous for this with his unforgettable line, “The devil made me do it.” If it isn’t the devil, we blame other people, difficult circumstances, and even temptations that we couldn’t resist.
These human solutions are like a fresh coat of paint. They make the outside look good, but do nothing for the inside. They don’t address our real problem—our sinful condition.
GUILT AND GRACE
Jesus tells his followers that their righteousness must be better than that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, if they expect to enter heaven. Humanly speaking, that is a tall task. The Pharisees were experts in keeping laws and making new ones. Few of us would be able to match their dedication to keeping obscure and insignificant laws.