Pre-COVID, you know last March, I attended a meeting with a great group of folks that are concerned about people within our community. The meeting was attended by folks from all walks of life, people who have lived in this area all their lives and people brought here by work and choice. During the meeting, one man – who moved here a few years ago – kept referring to a beloved park as Steele Creek Park. Honestly, I felt bad for him because he didn’t say it just once; he must have said it half a dozen times. Honestly, I thought to myself, “well bless his heart – he doesn’t know it is Steele’s Creek Park.”
As I left the meeting, I providentially passed a street sign that I have driven past hundreds of times. There on a green field in white letters were the words Steele Creek Park. I nearly wrecked.
Bless my heart. I was totally wrong. The only excuse that I have – and it is a flimsy one – is that I have heard it pronounced Steele’s Creek my entire life. Even though there are signs all over town, and even though the entrance to the park says it clearly, and even though I have passed by those signs hundreds of times, I just went by what I had heard without really giving it much thought.
Okay, I know the proper pronunciation of a park in Bristol really isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of a COVID impacted world, but it did make me think about how much we are influenced by what we hear – rather than perhaps what we have read for ourselves. While it isn’t such a big deal with adding a possessive s to a park – it can be a big deal when it comes to matters of faith. In fact, simply going on what we’ve heard without digging into the text ourselves can keep us from getting the fuller picture of what God intends. I think that’s at least one point that Jesus was making in his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
People in Jesus’ day heard all sorts of things that could be directly linked to some part of what we call the Old Testament. In their defense, they didn’t have access to printed material like we do. They were – by necessity – auditory learners. But – that didn’t mean that they couldn’t dig into what was being said and what they heard. And so, in Matthew 5:21-43, Jesus says something to the effect of “you have heard it said…but I say to you” at least six times (5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44).
Each time that Jesus says “you have heard it said…but I say to you,” he zeroes in on something his disciples (and the crowd) would have heard before – and it can be linked to what we call Old Testament. And each of those “you have heard” focused on things that we deal with, too: anger, sex, marriage, lies, vengeance, and getting along with the people around us who don’t like us, and we don’t particularly care for either. And, like us, Jesus’ original audience had been influenced by what they had heard more than by actually digging into what the text meant.
For example, in Matthew 5:21 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’” Now that seems cut and dry – doesn’t it? I too have heard, don’t commit murder. We may be tempted to dust off our hands and think to ourselves – well – I haven’t murdered anyone so I’m good. But doing so would be to miss the deeper, more substantial picture of what God intends. Rather than simply hearing it – we need to read it for ourselves and give it some deeper thought because “do not murder” isn’t the fullest picture.
Jesus doesn’t leave it at “don’t murder” because He knows what people are like. He also knows that we can murder someone without actually killing them. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift…” Good gravy that’s a bit more than simply saying “don’t murder.”
Just hearing “don’t murder” didn’t give the people of Jesus day the full meaning of what God intended for His people. The same is true today. Just hearing something a) doesn’t make it gospel (like adding a possessive s to a park) and b) it doesn’t give us the fullest possible understanding of what God intends. In fact, everything that the Bible has to say about what it means to be human and what God requires of us requires more than simply hearing it. It requires reading the text for ourselves and spending time studying it and giving it some thought.
Today I’d like to encourage you to think about the things you’ve heard over your life as it relates to matters of faith. I’d like to encourage you to take the time to open up the Bible and track those things down to see if a) you heard it correctly and b) that you have the fuller picture of what God intended. If you do, you’ll have a deeper and better appreciation for what God is calling you to do.