Today’s Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37
Sinners. I spent a whole month recently during which my prayer life consisted almost entirely of, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It sounds pious, until you understand that (a) it was about the only prayer I was managing, and (b) it cropped up because sure enough, I was in fact sinning that much. Not my best month, spiritually speaking.
But there are some fruits to a month like that. There’s the realization of how desperately I need God’s mercy. There’s the renewed compassion for others as sinful and weak as myself. There’s the consolation that I do in fact have a conscience, even if I notice mostly when I’ve just managed to ignore it.
This Gospel drops us into a community where the holy law of God had become the Great Excuse. It is like the smoker whose doctor tells him to start quitting by first cutting back to a pack a day, and the patient hears, “The doctor told me to be sure to smoke at least a pack a day!”
No!, our Lord is saying. The law was a starting place. A first step. What we do with our bodies matters, but what we do with our souls matters too. And the other way around as well. The two cannot be separated.
So, our Lord prods us: You tell me you’re holy because you don’t sleep around? Let’s talk about that guy in the next pew you’ve been daydreaming about. You’re proud because you waited until the divorce was final before you started dating again? Let’s see – was that a lawful marriage you just ended? You might or might not be free to remarry; let’s look. The list feels like it goes on forever. Just when we’ve peeled away one sin, another one is lurking beneath.
Is this a cosmic game of Gotcha! Is God trying to catch us? Not to condemn us, no. He wants to catch us up into holiness. Catch us up into Heaven. Catch us up into the net for which we were made: Happiness, peace, joy.
Why show us our sins? Why can’t we just sail through life on a ship of mercy, blissfully unaware of the evil we do? Because we are made for better. It hurts, this month, to see how far we have to go. But knowing how far we have to go, and in what direction, is the only way to begin to get there.
Where’s your spiritual sore spot today? That place that hurts so much you just don’t even want to look? Don’t even want to talk about it?
Lord, you know me inside and out, and you know the things I try to hide from everyone, including You. I can’t make myself holy. But I’m willing to let you do it. Thank you. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Jennifer Fitz