Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26
Key verse: (21) ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…But I say to you…”
Reflection: I’ve always loved music — all kinds of music. From the Rolling Stones to Robert Earle Keen; from Bach to Bono and U2. As a kid, I was drawn to the energy and the passion and the beauty of music, not necessarily the lyrics. I would sing along with the songs, but I wouldn’t really listen to the lyrics.
In college, one of the edgiest groups I loved were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who describe themselves as, “an American funk band.” Jumping in a mosh pit with friends to their pulsing rhythms with “Flea,” the bass player, flinging his head back and forth and lead singer Anthony Kiedis roaring out the lyrics — it was the best. I really never listened to the lyrics carefully, because the music was so compelling to my 19-year-old self.
As I began thinking about seminary, I found I started listening more carefully to lyrics. I used songs to help young people study the Bible. I would ask them about their favorite songs and they would tell me about the artists who wrote them, about the circumstances that led to the songs and that would open up the meaning of the songs in powerful ways. Then I would do the same thing with Bible passages for them.
One day one of the youth brought his favorite song for us to discuss. It was by the Red Hot Chili Peppers — imagine my surprise. “I love the Chili Peppers,” I said, “what song did you bring?” “Higher Ground,” he said. “I love that song!” I said. He explained it was a cover of the original by Stevie Wonder, in 1974. Then he shared the lyrics and I realized I have never really heard them. Here’s a verse with the chorus:
Teachers keep on teachin’
Preachers keep on preachin’
World keep on turnin’
‘Cause it won’t be too long, oh no
I’m so glad he let me try it again
‘Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’
Till I reach the higher ground!
Wow! I heard the gospel in that song. I heard the coming kingdom of God. I heard call and purpose and redemption and hope — in the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS! I had never really heard that song.
“You have heard it said…” Jesus said to his disciples. Then he began listing some of the commandments. Indeed, they had heard these commandments their whole lives. But had they ever really heard them? “But I say to you…” Jesus called them to really hear the words; not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, the truth of the law, to really hear what God was saying to us. He was taking them deeper in order to call them higher. They just had to listen; really listen.
Prayer: Open our ears to hear, our minds to see, and our hearts to receive the depth of your word to us this day, O God, that we might reach the higher ground. Amen.
If you want to hear the song, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdOLFtk9joI
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].