A Cycle – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time 20

A Cycle – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time 20

Mt. 5: 38-48

My youngest grandchild is preparing to receive his first Holy Communion this year and recently he went to his first reconciliation.  I was interested in how Catholic Schools approach the subject of sin and reconciliation, so I asked him to tell me what sin was and what it does to us.  He did not hesitate but said sin breaks our relationship with God.  I found the approach to sin today was vastly different than my first lessons on sin because all we learned was a list of sins and nothing about how sin separates us from God.  But in the end, we must define sin by something more concrete than it breaks our relationship with God because that means we have a relationship with God.   

It is safe to say, most of us still use the laws of God and the Church to measure how well we are avoiding sin.  For my grandson those first sins which he confessed determined what to confess by the rules set by his parents and later by his teachers at school.  From an early age, he learned the concept of reward and punishment by his willingness to follow or disregard one of the rules his parents set.  He learned the concept of breaking a relationship by discovering the depth of disappointment of his mother and father when he failed to obey. 

But even knowing what is required of him, he still challenges the rules.  Knowing what sin is, does not prevent us from challenging the definition of sin or even if we know it is against the wishes of God.  We just do not believe our sins are bad enough to condemn us or we believe we can redefine what is punishable, or we convince ourselves we have not sinned yet, we have only started down that path toward sin but have not crossed the punishable line yet.  

Let me give you an example of what I mean about redefining what is punishable.  How many of you, knowing the speed limit, still drive over the speed limit?  We somehow know there is some leeway and there is always someone driving faster than us.  It is those who drive significantly over the limit, they are the ones who should be punished. As a teen, how many times have you violated the curfew law of your parents by just a little bit?  If punishment did not come that time, we push that limit the next time by a little bit more until we find that point where they respond. 

We do the same with the laws of God and of the Church.  We obey some and we rationalize others as not significant enough to be followed.   

But is our adherence to the law an accurate measure of our relationship with God.  Notice, I say our relationship with God and not our holiness.  Today’s gospel and last week’s gospel should cause us to reflect on what God defines as following the law.  It begins with understanding one thing about the law; the law can only point out sin, it cannot change our heart’s inclination to sin.  Paul helps us understand this in his letter to the Romans and Galatians.  Paul before his encounter with Christ, believed he was absolutely adhering to the law by arresting those who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah.   

His conversion and the forgiveness he received during his encounter with Christ opened his eyes to a reality we all need to understand: “… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom.3:20).  He said this after his relationship with Jesus began before that encounter, he believed he was being obedient to the law and therefore was doing God’s will.   

Today’s gospel tells us how depending on the law to define our standing before God can lead us to believe we are righteous.  Jesus himself told us unless our “…righteousness (exceeds) that of the Pharisees, (we) will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5: 20).  We know the Pharisees were strict adherents of the law and used their adherence as a badge of holiness, yet Jesus condemns them. 

So, what is the measure of sin that matters to God.  Jesus helps us understand by his extreme definition of sin. He is telling us it is our relationship with God that is important not our obedience to a law.  To be holy as the Lord is holy means we must be aggressive in attacking the words, the actions the thoughts, the things, we do and the things we fail to do, and that goes against our nature.  The world teaches us to be fair and to not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of.  

I was taught by my father to fight back if someone strikes me. I was taught that if someone steals my coat, go get it back. If I lend make sure I get what I loaned back.  Nothing in my life or yours prepared us for how Jesus defines sin.

We have been taught to measure our standing with God by not committing grave, grievous sins.  We are not murderers, rapists, we do not defraud people out of their savings, and we do not steal cars or rob banks or assault people.  But the measure Jesus gives us is not to be better than the worst of sinners. The measure is how is our relationship with God.  The difference is where we put our focus.  Jesus wants us to focus on the kingdom of God which he established.  By that measure we must become disciples, formed in the image of Jesus Christ. 

That is the point of today’s saying about sin by Jesus.  He is telling us not to get comfortable with just being good people.  He is telling us to get aggressive and to quit fooling ourselves into a state of comfort while we fail to eliminate those places and things that tempt us to sin.  Jesus is exhorting us to get aggressive and seek the kingdom of God instead of enjoying the kingdom of this world where we are visually tempted to step up to the edge of sin, where we are enjoying the thrill of the temptation but do nothing to rid our lives of the temptation. 

Jesus never tells us to do something that is impossible for us to achieve.  In the upper room the night before he died, he said He would send us the Spirit who would teach us the truth about sin.  The way we learn what is sin is not by learning the definition of sin, but it is by allowing the Spirit to reveal our sin to us and to change our hearts, so we seek a deeper relationship with God. 

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