Matthew 5:17-37, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
A very long Gospel with many lessons! Each of the lessons taught in today’s Gospel passage could be expanded into an entire book. The core of them all, however, is in the heart.
Certainly, our exterior behavior must follow God’s will. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law…” But Jesus is trying to tell us that exterior behavior, that appearances, are not enough. For a true, faithful citizen of Christ’s Kingdom, the attitudes and desires of the heart must also be in harmony with God’s plan for our lives. This is what Jesus means when he says: “I have come… to fulfill…” – to bring the Old Testament Law to its fulfillment.
Christ is explaining the Law from this perspective when he explains the true meaning of sinful anger, lust, and lying.
If God “wills all men to be saved” (1Tim 2:4), how can our friendship with him be complete when we harbor resentment or contempt towards some people, or smear their good name by spreading rumors about them or speaking ill of them?
How can I live in intimacy with a God who loves every man and woman as a father loves his children, when in my heart I desire to use some of them only as an object of pleasure and self-indulgence?
How can I be a true friend of God, when I make promises that I don’t intend to keep? (Some Jews of Jesus’ time had developed the habit of swearing oaths in the name of God if they meant to keep them, and swearing on something else if they meant to break them.)
Other people may be satisfied with merely exterior success, with a “bottom line”; Christ, however, is interested in every line: he looks all the way in to our hearts.
If we live our faith superficially, looking like a Catholic on the outside only, our lives will never have the meaning or the power that they are meant to have. We will end up just following the latest trends and fashions, never really having the stability or making the progress in life that Jesus wants us to. But if we live our faith from the inside out, keeping Christ alive in our hearts, we will be able to help set the trends, not just follow them. It’s like the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat, an illustration I found recently in “Hot Illustrations.”
A thermometer merely tells what the temperature is in a particular area. If your thermometer reads 20 degrees and you place that thermometer in a room that is currently 25 degrees, the thermometer will change to register whatever the room temperature is. It won’t be long before the thermometer reads 25 degrees. It always changes according to its environment.
The thermostat, however, does just the contrary. Instead of changing in accord with its environment, it actually changes the environment in accord with itself. It adjusts the room temperature. If the thermostat is set at 20 degrees and the room is 25 degrees, the temperature of the room will gradually change to conform to whatever the thermostat is reading. The room will become 20 degrees.
Thermometers passively reflect what’s around them; thermostats actively affect what’s around them.
If our hearts are truly Christian, if they are filled with knowledge of God and with His grace, then we will be like thermostats. But if our faith only goes skin deep, if we are only going through the motions of friendship with Christ, we’ll just be like thermometers.
Later in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 15:18), Jesus gives us the secret. He explains that, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.” If we want to know the true condition of our hearts, of our friendship with Christ, all we have to do is reflect seriously about our words and the quality of our conversations.
So let us ask ourselves: When we speak, are we usually building others up, or tearing them down? Do we engage in crude and degrading humor? Do we join in gossip sessions and unnecessarily spread criticisms or even lies? If we discover one or the other of these things in us, Jesus has hard words that shock us, shock us so much that we ask: Does he really mean it when he said to pluck out our eyes or to cut off the hand if it causes us to sin?
No. The Lord is not encouraging self-mutilation here. He is rather calling for aggressive action, even action that hurts. Of course, our hands, feet, and eyes are just bodily organs. Of themselves, they can’t cause us to sin. But some places that our feet take us, some things we do with our hands, some things seen by our eyes can damage our relationship with God. Going to a particular club may not be in itself sinful. But what if every time I go there I happen to get myself in trouble? Every person is a child of God. But hanging around with certain children of God may present me with a near occasion of sin.
Jesus says to wake up, get real, and take aggressive action. If the internet is your problem, shut it down. If TV is your problem, turn it off. Better you go through life unplugged and offline than spend eternity in Satan’s internet cafe.
As we continue with this Mass, in which Jesus will give us, yet again, undeniable evidence of his unconditional love for each one of us, let’s ask God for something. Let’s ask him to help us recognize the true state of our hearts. And, if we see that our hearts are in bad shape, let’s do some radical action, let us exchange our hearts with his. He has already given us everything; surely he won’t hold back his Sacred Heart, if we ask him.