Saturday, February 27, 2010

Going beyond the minimum (Saturday, 1st Week of Lent, Mt. 5:43-48)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

* * * * * * * *

In many places in the gospels, Jesus reminds his disciples that he came not to abolish the law but to bring it to fulfillment. Nowhere perhaps is this seen more than in today’ gospel reading in which Jesus reminds us to go beyond what the law requires and not to be satisfied with merely obeying it.

Love of neighbor was a basic tenet of the Jewish faith, but the saying “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” also governed their relations with enemies. Jesus doesn’t question the soundness of these Jewish teachings. But he also exhorts his followers to go beyond them by loving the very enemies against whom they may want to seek revenge.

If we ourselves cannot transcend the most fundamental requirements of our religious obligations, Jesus asks, what merit is there to our actions? A faith that cannot see through the most basic of its requirements is a faith that is satisfied with the mere fulfilling of obligations. It could very well be a sincere kind of faith, but it certainly isn’t the kind that Jesus would like to see among his followers. We simply can’t allow ourselves to be satisfied with the bare minimum. As followers of Christ, we are constantly challenged to always do more.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)