"Four Fingers," by Rev. Fred Kinsey
“You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world!”
With these stirring words, these pronouncements of identity and who we are, Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says “I am the light”. But Matthew remembers how Jesus declared us lights for the world! And there on top of the mountain, the disciples of Jesus have gathered closely around him as he sits down to teach and preach in good Rabbinic fashion. And the crowds, that initially Jesus hoped to get away from, by climbing the mountain, also sheepishly filter in, forming an outer circle. And, at the end of 3 long chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew notes how the crowds were astounded at his teaching – that he had something much more special than the other teachers they knew.
And here, we weren’t even sure they were listening!
But it is not just listening , but hearing and understanding, that we need. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished. …For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The beef that Jesus had with the scribes and Pharisees was an internal religious debate. He thought they were too focused on appearances, on every jot and tittle, instead of the end point, of justice and life. The Pharisees – like all of us at times are tempted to do – had become hypocritical, and Jesus insisted that, freedom from the law, can only be attained by freedom through the law. Not its abolishment, but its fulfillment, even though in this finite life, as humans, we will never quite attain that full-fillment. But to get where Jesus is calling us, that is the direction we must travel.
Which reminds me of the movie, Patch Adams, named after the main character, and played by Robin Williams. In an early scene, Adams is reaching out to the old crotchety Arthur, in the asylum, where Adams had checked himself into because of his depression. The bristly old Arthur has this hard exterior, and it doesn’t look like he will let Adams in, or give him the time of day. But Adams has a gift of caring humor to connect with people.
In fact, the movie is based on a true story, of Hunter “Patch” Adams, who finds meaning in his quest to build his own hospital, the Gesundheit Clinic, to treat and heal people with more than just medicine, but with humor. He is successful to a large extent. But because he practices without a license – having gotten kicked out of medical school for his unorthodox style – most of the medical profession deride him and try to ruin his practice.
Of course, eventually, Adams does get through to Arthur, who’s playing hard to get in their initial encounter, working on some intricate math calculation. Ironically, as caught up as Arthur is in the complexity of his work, he doesn’t seem to notice, or have time to worry, about a tiny pin hole leak in his paper cup that is slowly soaking the important papers on his desk! That’s when Adams, through a small act of kindness, takes a piece of tape and covers over the hole, fixing the leak. And as he sets the cup down – Arthur notices – and finally looks up at Adams.
Then, in return for this kindness, Arthur shows his wise-old grandfatherly side. He takes Patch Adams’ right hand in his own, and holds up four of his fingers, asking, how many finger do you see? Four? says Adams, quizzically! No, says Arthur holding his fingers up between the two of them. Look at me, and tell me how many you see. You’re looking at the problem. Look at the solution! And so Adams focuses in on Arthur, and the fingers double. Oh! I see eight, says Adams.
Don’t look for the obvious, for what everyone else sees, says Arthur. Look beyond the ordinary, and find the solution no one else sees.
Jesus looked beyond what the teachers of his day were seeing, and taught a 3rd way, with a new eye, a new vision. He saw the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law. The spiritual community of God is not about consolidating power into the hands of the already powerful, but about giving away God’s power to everyone.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus taught his followers. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your motherly-Father in heaven.”
We are declared salt and light by Jesus. But even this gift will be nothing, unless we share it with the world – until we give it away!
That was exactly the problem in the time of the prophet Isaiah. God’s chosen people, the beloved of God, chosen to be a light to the nations, had forgotten what their call was. They had taken their gift for granted. They had misused their powerful status in the world, after King David, to build buildings of gold and fill them with riches – turning the blessings of God into material memorials to their egos! And instead of thriving, they lost their focus on the solutions, and began to let go of the gift-of-blessing God gave them. Until finally they collapsed like spoiled children fighting over their toys!
Announce to my people their rebellion, God says in Isaiah 58.
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
3 “…Why do we fast, but you do not see?” Say the people in response.
“Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, says God, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
And then, instead of focusing on the problem, God focuses on the solution, and offers a way out…
… 6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, …
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
I came to fulfill the law and the prophets, said Jesus, not to abolish them. We gain our freedom from the law, and the power of death, only by taking them seriously, by internalizing their precepts, and fulfilling their spirit, by looking past the problem to the solution, and the higher calling of God, until, as Jesus knew, it brings us to the point of epiphany – and the realization that we cannot by ourselves, fulfill them, but only with the grace of God. That is the gift more precious than gold.
And in that moment of revelation, we learn our calling as chosen ones of God – that the spiritual community of God is not about consolidating power into the hands of the already powerful, but about giving away God’s power to everyone – just as Jesus demonstrated for us on the cross, giving away his life, for the sake of the world.
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world! …let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your motherly-Father in heaven.”