Year A: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Matthew 5: 17-37
In this final reading from the Sermon on the Mount for the moment, Jesus offers some very challenging teaching.
As we saw with the Beatitudes a few weeks ago, He is setting out the style of life for those who want to live in the Kingdom.
He is not seeking to undermine the Law - or even to change it but where the Ten Commandments and other aspects of the Law emphasise rules for living, Jesus is setting out a style for living.
This means that His disciples are not to be judged simply on their behaviour and “not committing sin” - but on the motives and disposition of the heart that determines how we behave.
At first sight this seems an impossibility. Everyone has wrong desires - or feels angry - surely Jesus is being too harsh in saying that we must mutilate ourselves in order not to sin?
Well, Jesus is laying down a challenge. We have all met people who say that, for example, they don’t need to go to church because they haven’t done anything wrong - they haven’t stolen anything - or murdered anyone.
To them - and to us when we feel like that - Jesus is saying “Are you sure? You might not have acted on it - but are you sure you have never felt such hatred - or lust - or....?” This should cause anyone to stop and think - and realise that “there but for the grace of God...”
We all know people whose lives seem to be squeaky clean - but who make us feel uncomfortable - they seem “too sweet to be wholesome”. And again, this can be because we sense something beneath the surface that we can’t quite put our finger on - but which puts us on our guard.
It may be that their lives genuinely are holy - but as anyone who takes prayer and the spiritual life seriously will tell you - one of the first things you encounter when you pray seriously is your own sinfulness and unworthiness. The reason people feel that they can talk to such pray-ers is because they can sense that they have faced their own particular “demons” and are still struggling to defeat them. They are not complacent or smug - rather they take Jesus’ words seriously and do not fall into the trap of thinking that because they haven’t committed grave sin that they couldn’t.
It is not to leave us abject or overwhelmed by unworthiness. Throughout the Sermon, Jesus has been teaching us about ourselves - the need for integrity and humility. When we finally accept ourselves as God accepts us, we can stop having to prove ourselves...and it is at that point that our “yes” will simply mean “yes” - and “no” will mean no.
As simple - and as honest as that.
What does it mean for me?
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