Thursday, June 11, 2015

“Legalism says God will love us if we change. The gospel says God will change us because He loves us.”

Looking in newspapers or on television we see so many wars between Christians: how does this happen? Within the People of God, there are so many wars! How many wars of envy, of jealousy, are waged in neighborhoods, in the workplace! Even within the family itself, there are so many internal wars! We must ask the Lord to make us correctly understand the law of love. How beautiful it is to love one another as true brothers and sisters. How beautiful! Let’s do something today. – Pope Francis 6/12/13

Gospel Text: (MT 5:20-26)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“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 his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother,
Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

I’ve never murdered anyone. Does that make me a good Christian? Not by Jesus’ standards. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents his teaching with the same divine authority as that by which God gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. This undoubtedly would have astounded the scribes and Pharisees, who saw themselves as the arbiters of the Mosaic law. The scribes and Pharisees equated righteousness merely with satisfying the outward observance of the law. But Jesus called his disciples to go beyond that, beyond the letter of the law, into a deeper righteousness.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides examples of the righteous behavior necessary to enter the Kingdom. Does the law command us not to murder? Jesus says that isn’t good enough. Sin doesn’t just happen to us. It first grows as a tiny seed. Remove the attitudes and actions that lead to killing, and indeed, every obstacle to unconditional love, Jesus says. Are you angry with your brother or sister? Leave that sacrifice at the altar. Go and seek reconciliation first. At that moment, reconciliation trumps worship.

I suppose I could claim to be a good Christian by pointing to the fact that I’ve never committed murder. Indeed, most, if not all of us could make a similar claim. But then comes that pesky Sermon on the Mount where we learn that externals just don’t get us very far.

What then is the good news here? Just this: that we ought not to presume to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven, unless the good news first penetrates our hearts and leads us to live according to God’s ultimate intention — obeying the commandments of love and forgiveness.

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