I suppose there are all kinds of things that go off in our heads that we would never act on. Dreams that we pursue, things we wish for and feelings that we would never express – some good, some bad.
But Jesus reminds us that if those thoughts are wrong, it is no better to just think them. Thinking them is as bad as doing. Our faith is as much about what we think as what we do.
Matthew 5:21-37 (CEV)
21 You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” 22 But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell.
23 So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.
25 Before you are dragged into court, make friends with the person who has accused you of doing wrong. If you don’t, you will be handed over to the judge and then to the officer who will put you in jail. 26 I promise you that you will not get out until you have paid the last cent you owe.
27 You know the commandment which says, “Be faithful in marriage.” 28 But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, poke it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to end up in hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, chop it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
31 You have been taught that a man who divorces his wife must write out divorce papers for her. 32 But I tell you not to divorce your wife unless she has committed some terrible sexual sin. If you divorce her, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man’s wife.
33 You know that our ancestors were told, “Don’t use the Lord’s name to make a promise unless you are going to keep it.” 34 But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God’s throne, so don’t swear by heaven. 35 The earth is God’s footstool, so don’t swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don’t swear by it. 36 Don’t swear by your own head. You cannot make one hair white or black. 37 When you make a promise, say only “Yes” or “No.” Anything else comes from the devil.
What harm can it be to think something? It’s not hurting anyone. Well it does. It hurts us. It messes with our lives and our relationships. And it comes between us and God. There will always be people who press our buttons, but how I respond is more likely to affect me than them.
And so Jesus wants us to do something about it.
I love the whole picture of getting to church with your offering, remembering someone you’re arguing with, so putting your offering down whilst you go away and sort it out. I can imagine if we did this, there might be quite a pile of offerings in church waiting for people to come back to. But what smiles and lightening of hearts there would be as people came back having sorted things and presented their offerings to God.
It is only in sorting out our arguments that we can truly come to God in offering. We are bringing ourselves, not held back by all those things we’re thinking. We should be thinking about God, and focussing on him.
Paul in the Corinthians reading admonished the Corinthians for squabbling and told them to get on with it. Here Jesus re-enforces that. He wants people to leave those things behind, they just get in the way, and to come to God unburdened and at peace with the world. And he challenges not just wrong behaviour, but wrong thinking too.
Can I do that? Can I sort through my feelings? If the action would be wrong, then thinking about it is too. It’s not easy, but it will be worthwhile. Can I put those thoughts down, sort out differences, and get on with being and doing what God asks of me?
In the immortal words of Noel Gallagher
I come to you.
There are things in my mind and heart
that should not be there.
Release me from them.
Help me to sort out my relationships
and offer myself to you;
not burdened by unnecessary
and unhelpful baggage,
but clear and free
working for you.