-Martin Luther King, Jr., speech at St. Louis, 1964
Money is the root of all evils: poverty is the fruit of all goodness.
Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic
Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.
I am showering you with antitheses.
But if you think my antithesis examples are not great…
Let’s agree to disagree.
Yet another antithesis.
Maybe you can come up with some of your own?
We are talking about antithesis for a reason. It literally means opposite, though antithesis is a bit more nuanced than that. It is a literary device in which two opposite ideas are put together in a sentence to create a contrasting effect. In other words, an antithesis emphasizes a point you want to make by telling you what something is not.
It is very effective and Matthew’s Gospel uses it.
In fact, Matthew is the only Gospel to use antithesis.
Jesus of Nazareth, in the famous “sermon on the plain/mount” uses six concepts from Moses’ Law [Torah] and starts each six sentences with:
You have heard it said…
And then contrasted with:
But I tell you…
Remember something—Matthew’s audience is mainly Jewish. So it makes sense that Jesus’ speech assumes that people know something about the Law of Moses. So keep that in mind when you think about this passage. We are not living in the 1st or 2nd Century, neither are we in Israel or Palestine, and we drive cars and use cell phones.
A little perspective is needed here.
But these Jesus antithesis quotes can have meaning for us if we allow them to apply to our contexts.
Consider that Jesus is not introducing a new set of rules, but rather the intention or spirit of Mosaic Law. Jesus of Nazareth is actually asking his followers to do more than just follow the rules.
So forget about trying to say that Jesus tells us how we should marry or divorce or how women should dress or which governments are the best.
This is not about rules or cultural norms.
This is about going beyond such things and living a question:
What does an authentic, loving, and just community look like?
The antithesis statements are meant to encourage us to live honestly and to not rely on religiosity or status to prove that we are living well.
We are challenged to stop swearing religious oaths in order to prove our integrity.
The antithesis statements ask:
What if we were just plain honest?
What if people saw what we did and how we treated people, and we didn’t hide behind religious phrases, creeds, or traditions when we behaved badly?
In short, living according to the Law as Jesus sees it and teaches it, is not following rules just because they are rules or because society or peer groups or religions tell you to follow them.
I could say the same thing about Christmas and Easter traditions as well. Are we participating in those traditions simply because someone told us to, or do those traditions actually inspire us to be better people, inside and out?
Yes, I know. This antithesis thing is bizarre.
Well, the Jesus of the Bible is really Bizarro Jesus.
If you’re not familiar with the term bizarro, we’re talking comic books. Most of you have heard of Superman, I’m sure. Well, Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor came up with a sinister idea to create his own Superman clone. Luthor got a Doctor to do it, but Luthor forgot that Superman was an alien and not a human being, so the cloning process didn’t quite work. Instead of a Superman clone, Luthor created a monstrous creature. Later on, another villain called the Joker created a Superman [Bizarro] clone. This version was clearly the opposite of Superman, having cold vision instead of heat vision, and getting stronger when close to Kryptonite.
I think the typical Jesus we learn about in Sunday School or hear about in the media is nowhere near authentic. This is why I think that when we actually explore what this Jesus said or did—he starts looking like Bizarro Jesus.
For example, in spite of what many Hallmark cards say, the Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel isn’t exactly selling you roses for Valentine’s Day or fitting into cultural stereotypes.
I mean, imagine—a Jesus who says that following the rules is not so important—unless the rules improve your relationships with others!
Bizarro Jesus says you shouldn’t murder or engage in such violence against another person, but neither should you stay ticked off at someone for years and hold a grudge. Either way, the resentment you hold inside will consume you and keep you from having good relationships with people. No religious offering or time spent in a church or prayers said or scriptures read will make up for the hate in the heart or the grudge set in stone. That’s the point. So what if you follow the rule of not killing someone. But what about all that resentment you hold? You have to deal with that.
Does someone have something against you? You know that they do if you are thinking about it. So rather than go through the motions and put on a good face, what if you actually confront that person? What if you try to figure out why she/he has something against you? What if you seek some sort of reconciliation with that person, if possible?
Bizarro Jesus says you shouldn’t venerate the institution of marriage and therefore abhor divorce just because it’s a cultural norm. You should think about people. If someone gets divorced, who is left out or left behind? Who is cared for and who is not? Likewise, society’s marriage laws do not coincide with God’s laws. Many religious people are so quick to reject same-sex marriage claiming that the Bible told me so. But Bizarro Jesus says it’s not about the actual rule, but about the actual relationships.
Chances are if we focus on relationship more and less on religious traditions or rules—chances are we will accomplish a lot more good in the world.
And let’s finish this out with some swearing.
You see, saying swears or curse words in the modern sense is not what is prohibited here. In fact, I would argue that Bizarro Jesus might even encourage us to swear a bit more.
Because it’s honest.
Now I’m not saying you should swear AT someone, because that goes back to destructive relationships thing and so contradicts all that Jesus taught anyway.
And of course, I’m not encouraging people young and old to try to offend people with swear words.
Instead, I’m talking about removing the filter and saying what you feel and what you think. Some cultures and societies do this better than others. I don’t know what you’re used to, but I’d venture a guess that at some point in your life, you have struggled to remove this filter of vulnerability. You bite your tongue or hold your thought for later. You stay silent. Or maybe you say something you don’t mean; or believe; or think at all. You say something just to appease or to avoid conflict. Your yes isn’t a yes and your no isn’t a no.
It’s probably more like a….maybe?
Jesus was not saying that the whole world is linear and black-and-white with no grey areas. Not at all. But a yes is yes and a no is no, meaning that we’re not playing games here on this planet.
Not as far as relationships go. It’s unhealthy to do that. We hurt each other more when we play those passive-aggressive games. Being honest makes such a huge difference in relationships. It truly does.
So friends, I challenge you to think about what the antithesis will inspire you to do. What has been said to you in the past that you now need to let go of and so heal from? What rules do you hold on to that keep you from healthy relationships with others? How can you take small steps today so that your living is more authentic and compassionate?
You have heard it said that unless you are amazingly religious or unless you fit into someone else’s category, you are not capable of doing good.
But I say to you: your life is your offering so go and offer it to the world, walking toward reconciliation and making peace with others. Let love bend your rules.