February 16, 2020
(Sirach 15:15-20; Matthew 5:17-37)
A child was asked to clean his room before he could go out to play. He replied, “What’s the least I have to do?” He wondered if making the bed would count or if the floor had to be clean too. Do his clean clothes need to be put away, or only left in the laundry bin and tucked away in his closet? What about under the bed? Would that be checked, and would it have to be clean? The exasperated father wondered when the child would want a clean room for his own sake and not simply because the father had asked. Such an attitude on the part of the child is similar in what’s on display in today’s Gospel.
This week we continue our journey toward Lent with another reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus challenges his followers to not only follow the letter of the law, but to fully embrace its spirit. Jesus warns against pernicious effects of anger, dishonesty, and adultery. Within these attitudes we find the seeds that, if left to grow, blossom into bitter fruit of harm and destruction, and the breakdown of relationships where people are used, discarded, and duped instead of cherished.
To those people who want to be right with God, but wonder what is the minimum required to achieve that relationship, Jesus has the answer. Jesus takes certain aspects of the Law of Moses and expands them. Rather than command not to kill, Jesus says, do not grow angry. Rather than a command to not commit adultery, Jesus says not to look at another in lust. In other words, the Mosaic Law is not simply the bare minimum we need to do to be right with God. Instead, we need to go above and beyond the letter of the Law if we are to be followers of Christ. Merely fulfilling the minimum is not enough.
When Jesus responds in this way, we may crave to return to the minimum. How can we keep ourselves from getting angry, which is a natural human response to perceived injustice? The standard that Jesus sets may seem impossible to realize. The statement about plucking out one’s eye is certainly hyperbole and recognized as such in the early church. The standard established by Jesus fulfills the law rather than abolishing it. Jesus’ teaching goes to the heart of the matter. His advice to let “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no” is a clear statement to that effect.
So, when we want to ask, “What’s the least I can do?” we may need to reconsider the question. When we desire a relationship with Christ for its own sake, and not simply because we’ve been somehow coerced, a life of faith flows naturally. Simply following the rules (Mosaic Law) is not the right reason. We should no longer count the minimum but instead live in a relationship of trust, fidelity, and love.
Keep in mind that Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) He wasn’t intending to make the laws harder, because the Pharisees already did that, as we know from Jesus calling them hypocrites.
“….and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it; You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40) It all comes down to loving our neighbor and God, and in so doing, we fulfill the Law.
Living our lives as followers of Jesus means that we follow a standard different from the world’s standard. Jesus’ injunction not to look on another with adulterous lust, or with anger, is a prime indication of that. In the ancient world (and even in the modern), it can seem easier to cover up the other or remove the other. But Jesus response goes to the heart of a person. His response is not to cover up the temptation, but to challenge the person not to look on another with lust. Jesus places the responsibility on the individual, not on the object of temptation or anger.
Our Epistle reading today from Sirach highlights the complete freedom of human beings in their relationship with God. Though God desires good for us and all others, he does not compel us to do that which is right. Instead we are given the choice of whether to follow the commandments that lead to life or to reject them. In the Gospel reading this choice if broken down even further. Are we interested in the bare minimum required from the Laws laid forth in the ten Commandments? If, therefore, we get through life without committing anything against these Laws, have we lived up to our full potential?
Jesus’ words call us to embrace a different way; a way of perfection and virtue. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. And our Lord is always ready to forgive and help us start anew. As we draw closer to Lent, consider Jesus’ warnings. Where has these actions crept into our own lives and how might this year’s Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer lead us closer to Christ?
As we come forward for the Eucharist today, ask Jesus to work especially in you to help you with any struggle you are going through and to show you how he is active in your life with his yoke that is lighter.
Let us pray.
Jesus reminds us that our priority as Christians is forgiveness and love of neighbor. We pray for the grace to forgive those who have wronged us and for a spirit of reconciliation among feuding families and neighbors. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those suffering from the Corona Virus flu in China and that the rest of the world be spared from this very dangerous epidemic. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for a Spirit of justice in the world: that the needy, the exploited, the abused, and the victims of war may know freedom, relief from oppression, and the dignity they have earned as daughters and sons of God. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Gracious God, we thank you for the high calling in Christ Jesus to be your people. We praise you for the privilege of embodying your life of love, forgiveness and justice to the world. We gladly receive the responsibility to live up to who you have called us to be, and thankful for the opportunity to respond to your mercy in our lives. Arouse within us, we pray, such joy in serving you and others, such compassion for the friendless and downcast, and such empathic indignation at the plight of the abused, exploited and stigmatized that we cannot remain silent, will not remain uninvolved and will not accept life as usual. Convict us in our comfort, and inspire us to a new vision of what it means to bear witness to your kingdom and to salt this world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We ask all these prayers through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA