Fr. Steve shared with us this weekend how Jesus continues to call us to radical holiness. The Sermon on the Mount is challenging, but the wisdom of Jesus is life-giving for us. Jesus’ teachings call us out of ourselves and ultimately closer to the living God and one another.
The wisdom of Sirach tells us that we have a radical choice confronting us daily – yet, often we are not even conscious of this choice. It is a choice between life and death, a blessing or a curse. In the second reading, St. Paul is well aware that the Corinthians sophistication is not at all a match for the “deep things of God”. So it is with us. To St. Paul the revelation of Jesus represents a vision that human beings have never seen, a voice that human beings have never heard. It is beyond our wildest imagination – and you know that if you have read the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7. Human wisdom and prudence could not have conjured up the radical propositions of the Sermon on the Mount. Nor could human wisdom, conjure up the wisdom of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. While Jesus does not intend to abolish the Old Law, he promises to fulfill or realize the law in a new way. And without question, this new approach that Jesus heralds is at odds with the secular and religious rulers of his day.
Murder had already been forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but Jesus instead plumbs to the heart of this murderous intent. He looks at the issue or dysfunction underlying the action. It is the unspoken anger, violent language, quiet contempt of the others. It is an unwillingness to forgive. And Jesus addresses that reality. 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. How different our lives and our celebrations of Eucharist would be if we took Jesus seriously! The resentments that we hold against our parents, our children, our spouses, our siblings, our in-laws, our neighbors, our priests, our teachers, our bosses and on whomever, would have to dissolve before we approach the altar, as we would not want to approach the altar unworthily. Jesus calls us to so much more.
Adultery was forbidden as well. Again, Jesus plumbs to the heart of the matter. He speaks to the lust, which underlies all adultery. Remember when Jimmy Carter was ridiculed when he admitted to having lust in his heart. He was admitting what we all know, but often are too ashamed to acknowledge. He almost lost the presidential election over that statement. And lust is not sexual feelings – they are part of being a human being whose primary purpose is to help create intimacy with others and ultimately having children (of course, within the marriage bond); an ordered use of sexual passion respects the other person; lust, however, uses another person as an object for sexual pleasure or satisfaction. It objectifies another person – and no person should ever be objectified. This is the sin of pornography, which is rampant in our day. Jesus also unmasked the injustice (especially against the women of his day) and the adultery that so often accompanies divorce. His words were strong, but no stronger than those addressed to those of us who refuse to forgive. Jesus calls us to faithfulness – even within the depths of our hearts.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is calling us to address the little sins that too often can lead to more severe sins. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus thwarts all our attempts to compromise our faith or set aside privileged parts of ourselves that we often shield or exempt from the law of God. As I said, Jesus wants all of us – not just a part of our lives. So Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. Again, Jesus using hyperbole is not telling us to mutilate our bodies – yet, he is making a point of the seriousness of addressing even the little things can create disorder in our lives. And Lord knows, we all fall short; we all sin. All of the great saints, who led holy lives, were fully aware of their own failings and sinfulness (even though these were often what we would view as little sins) – this awareness and this drive for sanctity was what helped them to grow in holiness.
The Sermon on the Mount is not there to cast us down into helpless and hopeless guilt. No, it is an invitation to a deeper holiness and a deeper truth in our lives that is ultimately grounded in our hearts deepest desire – a union or a communion with our God. Jesus shows us that the little things matter. Few have lived this out better than Theresa of Lisioux, Theresa of the Little Flower, who taught us her “little way”. Her little way of serving Jesus in our day to day encounters with others, showed us that the most ordinary human existence could be a path for extraordinary holiness. Jesus is calling you and me to extraordinary holiness.
If you are on the journey of faith, it is no easy trip. It is dangerous and soul searching; yes, we are called to conversion, but it is an incredibly exciting journey. Anyone who talks, writes or preaches about the gospel of Jesus that leaves us unchallenged or bored is not doing their work; or the listener is not doing their work. Any teenager who leaves church without having witnessed the challenging radical message of the Eucharist and the revolutionary impact of the gospel was either asleep with self-absorption or listening to another sleeping minister. If we allow our faith to be just simply a nod to the wisdom of this age, we are missing the life-giving message of Jesus; the life-giving teaching of Jesus found within the Sermon on the Mount.