“Unless your holiness surpasses that of the Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”
If one ever was to think that the way of Christ was an easy one, this Sunday’s Gospel would certainly seem to contradict that notion. To enter God’s Kingdom we have to be holier than the Pharisees. Now for all that is said about the Pharisees one thing is for sure – they were experts in keeping the Law. They had amassed thousands of rules and regulations to explain it. Originally they did this to try to make the Law relative to the people in practical ways but it got out of hand until they had elevated the Law’s demands to such a point that only the trained and scrupulous Pharisees could achieve it. To keep the Law better than a Pharisee would seem an impossibility.
Christ continues with his impossible commands. Almost all of us can refrain from murder. If that was all Christ was asking us to do it would be no problem but he says we need to not only avoid the act of murder but the attitude of ill-will. Which of us has not called someone stupid or ignorant? Not only aren’t we allowed to do that anymore, but Christ’s intent is that we hold each other in high regard. We are to respect human life and uphold each other’s dignity. Therefore, anything which leads to killing or the diminishing of the other’s value is sin. If we call names or bear a grudge we break the commandment against killing. Who among us is not a murderer?
Half of all married people commit adultery at least once. And so it must be tough enough already to keep this command, but Christ makes it even more difficult by saying if we even look with impure thoughts, we’ve done it too. We are not to use other people for our own selfish purposes even in our imagination. He is so serious about this that he counsels to gouge out our eye if we can’t keep from looking. What a sight our Sunday gatherings would be if we did this! But even if you gouged out both your eyes how could you get the old thoughts out of your head?
Finally he commands us to be simply honest. In our society of calculated sound bites, persuasive advertising, fake news, and double speak this is a difficult task. We’ve forgotten what it means to be truthful. We all bend toward exaggeration. We all talk too much. We all want to package ourselves in the most expeditious way. How do we get back to a place where a person’s word is their bond?
Christ’s commands are hard. They are, in fact, humanly impossible. And that was His point. We cannot fulfill the Law by our own will power. We can not huff and puff and discipline ourselves into the Kingdom of God. These tough commands come after the wonderful blessings we learned of last Sunday. As we realize our inability, our spiritual poverty, we remember his words “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the Kingdom of God is theirs.” In hearing these words we cry out to God for mercy and grace. In mercy we are forgiven our failure to fulfill the Law. By grace we are transformed and given the power to live it. The Kingdom of God is not for the perfect. There are none. It is for those who realize their imperfection and who look to The Perfect One for mercy, grace and salvation.
|6th Sunday of the Year Sir 15: 15-20; I Cor2: 6-10; Mt 5: 17-37|
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice.Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.