Strong words! Serious words! Jesus’ message on that mountaintop in Galilee [Matthew 5:17-37] was meant to challenge – and continues to challenge – not just you and me and anyone else who claims to be Jesus’ disciple, but a whole way of life, that of his 1st-century contemporaries, and our entire way of life today. You may have heard something different, Jesus says, but I say to you! At the same time, Jesus also assures us that his message is not some idiosyncratic invention. I have not come to abolish, he says, but to fulfill. In doing so, Jesus invites us also to fulfill the destiny built into who we are, to become who we are meant to be – and so be, as we were told to be just last Sunday, the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to our common human tendency to settle, to do the minimum, to take the short cut, to focus on ourselves. In the new kingdom, to which Jesus is inviting us, anger and insults and contempt are as out of place as murder and must give way to the tough tasks of reconciliation, forgiveness, and mutual acceptance. Obviously, anger and insults and contempt and name calling may seem to do less immediate individual and social damage in the world than murder, but they still do plenty of damage; and, more to the point, they say something significant about who I am, about what I am like inside, about what is going on in my heart. Jesus challenges us to confront the powerful subtlety of sin within ourselves and our seemingly infinite capacity to make excuses to do the minimum and take the shortcut to moral mediocrity. And, as the simple parable about the gift at the altar illustrates, nothing can compensate for staying focused on ourselves and closing ourselves off from others, whoever those others might be – family member, next-door neighbor, Mexican immigrant, or Syrian refugee.
Jesus in today’s Gospel is telling all of us that, if we want to respond effectively to his challenge to full Christian commitment, then we have to look at ourselves – at all our feelings and emotions and experiences – in the light of what God has made us for and how he expects us to get there, and then stretch ourselves by accepting the Lord’s invitation to full membership in the community of his disciples, who care for and support one another to be – not just what we can be- but what God himself is enabling us to become.
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, February 12, 2017.