by Rev. Stanley Krempa
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter 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. 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.
“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife – unless the marriage is unlawful – causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,' and your 'No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”
One of the characters made famous by the television series “Star Trek” was Mr. Spock. Spock was the completely rational person. His vision was unclouded by emotion. Sometimes, we imagine ourselves to be like that, making rational decisions, rational choices and rational responses.
In fact, we are not like that. Although we won’t admit it, emotions, feelings and past experiences shape our thinking and our living more profoundly than we realize.
Everyone has an “inside” and an outside. The outside of us is the behavior that people can see. Imagine people shopping in the mall. Everything and everyone appears very orderly. Imagine that these same people were turned inside out. What would we see?
If we could see within, we might find in some, even in many, heroic holiness, powerful charity and deep love of God. We would also see in others a world of anger, bitterness, hate, jealousy, ambition, distance from loved ones, neglect of marriage relationships and unresolved hurts.
It is this inner world that needs conversion and grace. We are not saved only by the letter of the law but by its spirit.
It is far harder to control this inner world where all kinds of vices can reside and thrive. Sometimes it seems to have a life of its own. This inner world can dominate our lives.
There is a story of a young boy who lost control of his yellow balloon. As he saw it rise high into the sky, he saw a man selling helium balloons. He asked whether the red one he would buy would rise as high as the yellow one he lost. The man assured him that it would. He asked further whether the green one would rise as high. The man assured him that it would as well. He asked whether the blue one would rise as high. The man answered, “Son, it’s not the color on the outside but what is on the inside that counts.” So it is with our moral life.
As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, the letter of the law is important. But there is more to discipleship than the letter of the law. There is also the spirit of the law about which Jesus speaks at length.
The letter of the law tells us to go to church on Sunday. But we violate the spirit of the law if we spend our time in church texting, reading pamphlets from the publications rack or daydreaming.
The letter of the law tells us not to kill. But we violate the spirit of the law if we let anger, ridicule and even hate infect our heart, mind and soul.
The letter of the law tells us not to commit adultery. But we violate the spirit of the law if the illusions depicted by pornography populate our minds, eroding our fidelity in marriage, exchanging fantasy in place of reality.
To focus only on our exterior behavior that people can see and neglecting the inside that people cannot see is like putting aluminum siding on a deteriorating house. Soon the siding will deteriorate. As Jesus says later in Matthew’s Gospel, “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Mt 23:26).
How seriously will we take Lent this year? Will we be content with adjusting a few external behaviors? Or will we look within and start to cleanse and purify our attitudes? For anyone seeking to have a muscular and honest spirituality, nothing can surpass the challenges Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount in today’s Gospel reading. It is the most effective boot camp for the new Christian and a program of a lifetime for all of us. Are we willing to purify memory, forgive hurts, nurture a faithful heart in marriage and open ourselves to God’s grace? None of us is a Mr. Spock. We are not completely rational and need the grace of God to heal our inner world. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
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