Column – Harmony: The obvious gift we take for granted

Published 6:29 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

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By Charles Qualls

By winning a Grammy, the great actress Viola Davis recently completed her career EGOT. If you’re not familiar with that lingo, that is an acronym that signals her as quite a rare entertainer. Davis has won now in her career an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony: an EGOT. The list of people who have done that is minuscule. 

One of the quirkier projects she did, though, might be a television series that ran for six seasons. It was a network crime drama called “How To Get Away With Murder.” Over six seasons, that’s a lot of exploration in the many ways one could, you know, kill someone. 

Jesus talked about the same sort of thing in Matthew 5: 21-37. There are a lot of ways we can do damage to one another. In fact, he made the case that in God’s kingdom we could softly, silently take the life out of each other in ways that might not make headlines. 

When we think of the church, family or community, we could rob each other of life and still remain above the law. I’ve seen a few things over my thirty-plus years as a minister. I’ve seen bad people that no one wanted to call bad. 

I’ve seen selfish people maneuver, fight, manipulate and battle to get their way, while nice people let it happen. All in the name of, you know, being nice. I’ve seen the unthinkable happen because while we staff were getting an accurate read of some, the nice people were busy saying, “Oh, I know what you see. But they would never do that.” Then once people did do that, everyone was hurt and surprised. Of course, the church paid the price.

Harmony is the obvious gift we probably take for granted. Yet, it’s interesting that our Lord didn’t take it for granted at all. Neither did the apostle Paul, incidentally. More of his ink than we care to admit was spilled cleaning up the messes that he’d seen or heard about in the early churches. 

Because when you get human beings together, things happen. Glorious, beautiful and encouraging things happen. Then, of course, the other stuff happens too. 

Jesus was teaching here in Matthew. He was still laying down a segment of teaching that began when he gave us the popular Beatitudes. Then, he began to riff on a number of important human subjects. In fact, what Jesus did here is important, because he took what they had been taught in the past. Now, he’s dialing things up a notch.

So many Christians like to claim salvation in Jesus Christ. Yet, for permission to judge others, they like to selectively dip back into the Old Testament Law for some kind of Wild West justice in quips and quotes. Jesus, the Lord of our Salvation, says essentially that he demands of his followers a higher standard and ethic. 

Matt Skinner, a scholar writing on this text, says, “Jesus isn’t so much trying to do away with the Law. He’s actually trying to rescue it from religious people who want to use it on others.” Jesus was doing a back-and-forth exercise here of “You were taught in the past…” but “Now I say to you…” Or as another scholar, Christopher Holmes, points out Jesus is outlining an exceeding righteousness. 

Happily, I’ve seen complex issues get studied, discussed, solved and voted on. Things that took a lot of steps: conversations, study, refinement and explanation. Only healthy people can do this. I’ve seen ministry strategies and decisions that weren’t universally popular get approved and tried, with everyone holding their collective breath. 

I’ve heard people say, “I was on the wrong side of that one. I’m glad there were people here who knew better than me,” as they stuck around and moved forward with the church they were committed to. I’ve seen lay people have lunch with each other and agree to disagree peaceably. 

Why? Because without harmony, and the attendant ethic that comes with it, a congregation, family or community will only limp along and will never be great. Without harmony, we will never be what it could be.

Harmony is an obvious gift that I think we take for granted. Jesus here, if we hold important what he has to say, thinks we can’t afford to do that. If all this is too much for you, then let me simplify it for all of us the way he did. Jesus said to love God and love others.