Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

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Matthew 5:21-26


Today’s sermon title is an often quoted line from the 1970’s British TV comedy Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Are any of you Monty Python fans?  Fun fact: When the comedy troupe was coming up with their name, before they landed on Monty Python, they were considering “The Toad Elevating Moment.”[2]  But I digress…

“Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition” was a series of comedy sketches that went something like this:

A woman sits quietly knitting when her husband runs in saying, “There’s trouble at the mill!”

“What kind of trouble?” she asks.

“One of the cross beams has gone askew on the treadle.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

I don’t know. Mr. Wentworth just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the mill, that’s all – I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.”

[Jarring brass chord]

[Three men in red cardinal suits run in, and the lead man shouts…]

“NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”[3]

In these scenes, Monty Python is satirizing the inquisition, which was established by the Catholic church in 1231 and continued for almost 700 years.  Their last official execution for heresy was in 1826, but the department that conducted the inquisitions still exists.  Today it’s called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Every significant document or decision that comes out of the Vatican must be approved by this department.[4]

Only 2% of those who were brought before an inquisition tribunal were actually executed, but the executions are maybe what our collective memory has held onto the most.  In the Monty Python skit, the inquisition comes into the conversation because the man is taking issue with being questioned, but I thought of it because in today’s scripture Jesus uses the command from the Torah – You shall not kill – to make the point that our relationships matter, and how we handle our differences matters.

In today’s reading, Jesus is continuing to teach his disciples about God and God’s ways as part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Similar to how we teach about God today, Jesus begins with a scripture, and then expands from there. He says:

The Torah says: Murder not.  But I say, even anger is a problem. The way you speak to people matters.  So if someone has an issue with you, go resolve it before you bring your offering to God.  Be reconciled with one another and settle your differences, otherwise you might end up in jail.

The sixth commandment is one that most of us know. 

In Hebrew it’s just two words: Lo tirtzach.  Murder not.

Simple enough.  Pretty easy to follow.

Show of hands…How many of us have broken this commandment?

Most people listening to Jesus probably also thought this was an easy and straightforward concept.

Don’t kill. Ok. Got it.

But Jesus says, “Hold on. There’s more to it.  It’s just as big a problem if you are angry with someone, or if you insult them.”

Remember the taunt we said as kids, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Not only is that not true, but Jesus says that calling someone names is just as bad as killing them.

Verse 22: But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,[c] you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult[d] a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell[e] of fire.

Notice the escalation. Judgment, then council, then fire.  I suppose if we take this literally, then burning people at the stake, as was done during the inquisition, might seem justified.  But let’s remember that Jesus began with the command to “kill not.” Jesus builds on that foundation  to then say that it matters what we’re thinking.  What we think about people comes out in our words and our actions. Anger, scorn, grudges and fear get in the way of doing what Jesus told us to do – Love God, Love our neighbors.

Does Jesus say, “It’s super important that you get everything right?”  No. It’s not about who’s right.  It’s about taking care of our relationships with one another, and taking the initiative to make amends.

Verses 23-24: So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

If someone has something against you, go be reconciled and then come worship God. 

We tend to underestimate the power of our words.  Pastor and author Eugenia Gamble in her book on the Ten Commandments called “Words of Love” points out that the idea of murder as more than a physical act did not begin with Jesus. “The Talmud contains warnings that humiliating someone or using sneering words is the equivalent of murder. ‘The person who makes someone else ashamed in the presence of others is as if this person had shed blood.’” [5]

In other words, anything that causes death to body, soul, or spirit is equivalent with murder.

So now might be a bad time to ask again, how many of you have broken the sixth commandment?

We might not always know the impact we’re having on people.


In her book, Rev. Gamble tells about a friend who was grieving the loss of a family member and struggling with the isolation of the pandemic. ”In sharing her distress with [a] friend, that friend told her to buck up, that a lot of people have it worse than she does so she should not complain. She was dashed by this comment . . . She felt guilty for her feelings and began to feel cut off from them. Her friend had no desire to hurt her, yet words that minimize others’ feelings and experiences can deal a terrible blow.” Gamble says, “Pain hurts. It hurts a lot. Just because someone else may hurt more does not mean that the ordinary pains of life do not matter. When we do this to each other, we slowly kill a person’s belief in herself or her ability to trust her own experience and find the grace available in it.”


Gamble was writing this book around the time that the shooting massacre happened at Columbine High School in Colorado.  At the time, it was one of the worst that had ever happened.  Now there are so many shootings happening that the news media has to ignore most of them.  We have become numb.  

One of the challenges in Jesus’ teaching such a broad application for the sixth commandment is that it also broadens our responsibility. The problem with that is that we are responsible, in Gamble’s words, “not just for what we do, but also [for] our complicity in what others do. Or even what we, or others, fail to do.”[8]

In our numbness, we lose the motivation to find solutions. We, by default, allow murder to keep happening.

The other problem, of course, is that we are human. We all make mistakes.

Our call to worship this morning used the words of Psalm 119:

Happy are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong
    but walk in his ways.

Happy. You know why frogs are happy, don’t you?  They eat what bugs them.

Psalm 119 says “happy are those whose way is blameless.” I’m not terribly fond of psalms that make these sorts of absolute statements.  How many of us are blameless and do no wrong? 

No one is blameless and no one is perfect at doing no wrong. Does that mean we cannot be happy if those are the requirements?  But maybe we shouldn’t take it so literally. The intent of the psalm is to celebrate that God’s will is revealed to us in God’s word, allowing us to seek God and follow God’s ways.

We are not blameless. Thankfully, through our faith in Jesus Christ, it’s as if we are blameless, and we are reconciled with God.  But that’s only part of the equation. Jesus says that we also need to be reconciled with one another.

Verses 23-24: So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

Our relationships matter.  The way we treat each other matters.  No one is exempt from this.  We must treat people with respect, whether they are rich or poor, black or white, following our way or going their own way.  All people are made in the image of God.

And that’s why stopping people from killing one another matters.

Do you know what today is? 

(Sunday. Feb 12. Super Bowl. 6th Sunday after Epiphany. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.2nd Sunday in Black History Month.[9])

Today is Racial Justice Sunday…In the UK.

On this day, churches in the UK are remembering the murder 30 years ago of an 18-year-old black teenager named Stephen Lawrence.  He aspired to be an architect, but instead his legacy has made him an architect of justice and equality. For those in the UK, Stephen’s murder was their George Floyd moment.[10]

For us in the United States, the name Stephen Lawrence might not mean as much as the names of George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and so many others.[11]  So you might be wondering why you should care about something that happened 30 years ago and more than 4000 miles away?

Does it matter what we think about any of these murder victims?  It does, because our thoughts are what lead us to act.

I don’t blame you if you’re feeling uncomfortable.  The names that I mentioned have become like a battle cry.  The intent is to stir us out of apathy and indifference and into action.  They might also make us mad, or sad, or ashamed, or confused.  Why does murder keep happening?

Chapter 4 of the book of James gives us some answers:

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. (James 4:1-2)

Our thoughts and motivations matter.  Our words matter.  Thoughts and words seem like small things in light of the immensity of murders.  But James suggests we move forward with another small thing.

Prayer.  “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”

So let’s make it a point to pray, every day.


Ask God to help us pay attention to what’s happening inside of us so that we resolve our anger and other feelings.

Ask God to help us see how our impact, by what we think, by what we say and do, and by what we’re afraid to say and do.

Ask God to help us prevent the killing – whether in thought, word, or deed.

Ask God to stop the killing.

And thank God that he doesn’t leave us to do all this alone.

[1] Photo By BBC – , released for free download,


[3] Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 2, Episode 2. “The Spanish Inquisition.” 1971. Read excerpt: Watch:

[4] Cullen Murphy, God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2012.

[5] Gamble, Eugenia Anne. Words of Love (p. 117). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[6] Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

[7] Photo by Meg MacDonald on Unsplash

[8] Gamble, Eugenia Anne. Words of Love (p. 112). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.




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