C Cycle – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
I remember the incident after all these years, a pop quiz in college on a topic in my major. An essay response to a situation based on principles we had been learning and on which I was comfortable with. It was not the quiz I remember but the words scrawled in large red letters across the front of my response – “Brilliantly done but you missed the point.” After all these years those words remind me how easy it is for every one of us to believe we are doing the right thing, only to find out we have missed something in applying those lessons to our lives.
Luke in the opening verses of his gospel, says he has “investigated everything carefully from the beginning and wrote it down in consecutive order so you may know the exact truth about what you have been taught.” (Lk.1:3-4). Jesus in this gospel is at the beginning of his ministry. The disciples have responded and are following him, and they have listened to him and have seen the healing of a paralytic and a leper. Now Jesus is talking to a large crowd and his words are challenging their core beliefs. Jesus is shaking the foundation of their faith and challenging them to move beyond dependence on the law to become dependent on the Spirit to write the law on their hearts. He words are for us, and he is challenging us to begin living our faith by another standard, one we have never considered possible. Jesus is telling us we are missing the very reason we were created, intimacy with God and the Trinity.
Remember they are rooted in the Jewish faith rooted in the law given to Moses by God. The law separated them from all the other people on earth. They had one God, while the other nations had many gods, and their neighbors’ gods were interchangeable depending on their need. The law gave their community structure, order, cohesion, and discipline. Instead of resolving disputes by fighting they presented their disputes to a judge, a priest someone designated by God to settle disputes by applying the law to their case. Their laws covered everything from purchases, accidents, injury, and relationships. The laws guided their lives for thousands of years. Everyone could measure their relationship with God by how well they kept the law.
Jesus began speaking by telling them they were blessed by things no one would believe is a blessing. Persecution, mourning, and by having their spirits broken. But now he shifts and tells those listening the law only held us in check until now. In fact, Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us the law can only define for us what sin is, but it cannot keep us from sinning. Jesus is telling us it is possible for us to be obedient to all the laws, all the rules placed on us by our faith and still be missing the point of why we exist and that is to experience intimacy with God. What Jesus is telling us is how our natural inclinations war against our becoming who God created us to be.
To the Jews of his day the law was clear, an eye for an eye was justified. When attacked, you could strike back according to the law given to Moses. Jesus in this gospel is telling us we can overcome our natural inclinations by allowing our hearts to be changed by His presence in our lives. That is not only possible when we submit to God’s plan to write his law on our hearts (Jer. 31:33), Every situation Jesus mentions, allowing someone to take something from us or lending and not expecting to be repaid, by loving our enemies and forgiving all who have hurt us is not possible for us until we move away from dependence on the law to a dependence on the plan of God to change us.
If we depend on the law to define our standing with God, we will miss the point of why Jesus came and died for us. By Jesus’s death, God restored our glory and our identity as sons and daughters, heirs to the kingdom. Not counting our transgressions against us but embracing us and offering us the intimacy with him we lost by the sin of Adam. We cannot love what we do not know but we will never realize what we ar\e missing until we acknowledge we have been deceived by our own definition of holiness.
These words of Jesus in this gospel are not new to us, we have heard them in differing ways every time we read or hear the scriptures read to us. It is in every story of forgiveness or how mercy is given to those we deem unworthy. We hear it in the story of the prodigal son, the woman at the well, Mary has chosen the better part while Martha is at work trying to serve Jesus. It is the workers in the vineyard, the paralytic by the pool of Bethesda and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
God is offering us mercy and his forgiveness is freeing and life changing. Intimacy with God is ours if only we respond and acknowledge we cannot do what is required of us with out the grace of God filling us. We need to stop trying to please God by our attempts at holiness and allow the Spirit to guide us to holiness. Jesus is telling us that he is the way, and the truth and the life and there is no way to the Father except through him.
Lent is near, consider the sacrament of reconciliation as a first step of a journey into the heart of the Father. Remember the words of the blind man, Lord that I might see. God’s response to all our sins hung on a cross so that we can become who God created us to become.