Sunday, February 13, 2011

Choosing life over death; what it means to follow Jesus

Today's readings are truly challenging. As Christians, we too often act as through Jesus taught us no positive commandments, no dos and don'ts. Today's Gospel, taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, puts that notion to rest. Instead, we are taught that the commandments are not enjoined on us from without, that is, they are not externally imposed. Rather, they are proposed, set before us as the path to life, thus they are not just life-changing, but life-saving.

More often than not keeping God's commandments is a choice. Sometimes we make it more complicated than that, which is called rationalization. Today's reading from Sirach makes this clear. It also tells us that keeping the commandments will save us, not because we are capable of making ourselves perfect, but because keeping them is an act of trust in God, who sets before you "fire and water" and leaves you free as to which to choose, that toward which you "stretch forth your hand." So, God sets in front of you "life and death, good and evil" and whichever you choose "shall be given" you. God commands nobody "to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin." This why the psalmist sings "Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!"

Jesus teaches His disciples at the beginning of today's Gospel, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place" (Matt. 5:17-18). Of course, Jesus fulfilled the Law in his own person, which only He could do. He emphasizes the importance of keeping the commandments and of teaching others to do so as well. Only after this does the Lord proceed to move us from an empty, external adherence to the Law to a full, internally-accepted change, called metanoia, meaning repentance or conversion. He does this by setting forth the so-called theses and anti-theses. The former being what the Law says, the latter being what it means to choose life over death, good over evil.

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment" (Matt. 5:21-22a).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" ( Matt. 5:27-28).

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.' But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matt. 5:31-32).

"Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.' But I say to you, do not swear at all...Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one" Matt. 5:33-34.37).

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well" (Matt. 5:38-39).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:43-44).

These weeks leading up to Lent are a good time to assess how you are doing with regard to the things that really matter.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! Because the persecution to American Christians is on its way.


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