A Cycle – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 23
From our infancy, we have been taught by our parents to obey simple rules that were imposed to protect us. We were taught not to go near boiling water, or to stick anything into electrical outlets, to look before crossing streets. As we grew older there were other rules we had to obey. Rules having to do with personal hygiene like needing to brush our teeth after meals and wash our hands after going to the bathroom. We were told we had to bathe daily and do not sneeze on anyone. Then we were taught rules we needed to develop interpersonal skills and relationships. Share your toys, do not steal, being courteous and say thank you when someone is kind to us.
As we grow older and begin spending time away from our homes, we discover other rules. Rules which build on those foundational rules taught to us by our parents. Rules exist in the classroom, the playground and on the streets. Society has rules which are designed to protect us and bring order to society, like speed limits. Workplaces have rules which also bring order and protect us from being injured or being taken advantage of by those who employ us.
Eventually we figure it all out and for the most part live in harmony with each other and we grow comfortable because we understand what is required of us. What makes us uncomfortable is when the rules are enforced indiscriminately and when they change because someone new has now become the enforcer of the law. Changes made by a new person in charge seem to imply we have done something wrong, or we are trying to cut corners or somehow ignoring what was required of us.
Jesus in today’s gospel has changed the definition of what we were taught was sin and it does seem to demand much more of us to be pleasing to God. How can our righteousness surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees? In their own words they bragged about how they exceeded the demands of the law. They paraded their righteousness for all to see how they were more than able to comply with the demands of the law. Is Jesus saying we must do what is impossible for us to achieve in our lives.
I believe the answer to that is no we are not being asked to do the impossible. If we even come close to following what Jesus is saying, we will not be righteous because we will become as haughty as the Pharisees. The simple truth is if we could do that we will become religious not holy. So why would Jesus tell us to go beyond the demand of the law. Why tell us if we look with lust at another woman, we have committed adultery with her if it is an impossible standard. Why would Jesus tell us to cut off our hand if it causes us to sin because that is better for us than spending our entire eternity in hell?
Is Jesus exaggerating what He requires of us just to get us to make some minor changes to our behavior? Is He setting the bar higher just to get us to work toward improving our ability to follow the law? Will we feel more in compliance with the law if we slow down from 45 to 40 in a 35 mile speed limit zone?
In what we have been taught about sin from our youth caused us to ignore the very words of God given to us in the scriptures which tell us we “…shall be holy as the Lord our God is holy” (Lev.19:2). Jesus is not challenging us to do the impossible and make minor changes to our behavior because that will be better than what we are achieving now.
No, Jesus is telling us a truth that is part of God’s plan for us to be holy. He is telling us we need to stop measuring our righteousness, by the law and begin to allow God to change our hearts. God promised us he will change our ability to follow his will by sending us the Spirit to change our hearts (Jer. 31:33 and Ez.36:26-27). Take the time to read those passages and invite the Spirit into your life to achieve within us exactly what we cannot achieve by our own willpower – holiness.
The scriptures tell us our destiny is to conform to the image of Christ and we do not conform to the image of Christ by just following the demands of the Law. His life shows us how the law held us in check until the law of the Spirit came (Rom. 8:2). We can turn the other check. We can stop lusting and we can give more when someone asks us for a handout. We can become more compassionate, more loving, more patient, more joyful, more generous because the fruit of the Spirit dwelling within us produces that kind of change in us.
We can overcome the sin as it is defined by the law if we allow the Spirit to change our hearts and by its transforming power “…move us from one degree of holiness to another until we conform to the image of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.3:18). Those words are not mine they were written by Paul’s as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to convey that truth to all of us. We would do well to allow those words to guide us to seek the Spirts power to help us conform to the image of Jesus Christ and do the things he did.