So Jesus, the master teacher, continues his Sermon on the Mount today: teaching us how to be faithful and intentional disciples.
But before we get to Jesus' lesson for the day: for the past few weeks we have been hearing from another master teacher: St. Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth.
Paul has been urging the members of this young church to avoid the "wisdom of the world."
Scripture scholars have helped me to understand the "wisdom" of the ancient Roman society the Corinthians would have faced:
It was decadent: pleasure ruled.
It was self-centered: take care of yourself, have as much fun as you can - and let everyone else take care of themselves.
And it was corrupt: do anything you must do to get ahead - even if means betraying friends, neighbors, or even family.
So if St. Paul was writing to the Church of St. Patrick in our day- what would he classify as today's "wisdom of the world?" Is it much different than ancient Rome?
A quick look at what is fed our minds and hearts on television will give us a quick read on the wisdom of our North American world.
Afternoon soap operas and evening dramas consistently highlight marital infidelity and taking revenge on offended parties.
Participants and audiences go crazy about guessing the correct price of a dream vacation on numerous game shows -- and how about the show named: Family Feud. . .
24 hour news channels certainly give us the message its okay to put people down with whom we disagree. Even get aggressive with them if we need to.
It's easy to find adults working into a frenzy about a bad call or some slight given a sports team or player. Not only on tv – but in games their children are playing in. . .
Even cooking channels give us chefs leaving the kitchen in despair and enraged -- after being chopped from competition.
And who could ever achieve the life of Jersey, the Kardashians, or Desperate Housewives. . .
The wasteland of television certainly reveals something about the wisdom of our world -- and I haven't even touched commercials that tell us we can have much better lives if we lost some weight, drove the right car - and used the right dish soap –
as long as we don't put it in the dishwasher!!
Instead, like with the Corinthians -- Paul would insist that we embrace the wisdom of God, most clearly present in the sacrificial love found in the cross of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now on to Jesus, who, as he did last week, gives us some examples of how we can embrace his new law of love-- given to us in the Beatitudes.
Jesus speaks first about responding to violence: after all, the meek will inherit the land - and the peacemakers will be called children of God. . .
So the Law found in the Old Testament says: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But Jesus says: when someone strikes you on your right cheek – turn the other one as well.
Now Jesus in telling us to turn the other cheek: is not telling battered women, or anyone else, to continue putting up with abuse.
Rather, he is telling us to find creative ways to respond to insults and injuries. Turning the other cheek gives the violent person a chance to reconsider their past action before they do it again.
Next, Jesus' advice involves a little humor. If a poor person is taken to court because someone wants their tunic --- they should give over their coat as well:
standing there naked the action just might embarrass the one who is trying to take advantage of a weaker person.
Roman soldiers often humiliated Jewish residents by forcing them to carry their packs for a mile.
If then, a Jew freely offers to carry the pack for two miles -- he or she demonstrates that they depend on God, not on the power of the rude soldier.
Jesus continues the radical nature of discipleship by urging those who follow him to be generous to those who want to borrow and not worrying about repayment.
Jesus also gives us probably his most challenging way of embracing the cross. The Old Law says you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies – but Jesus new law says: love your enemies.
He's not talking about having warm feelings for terrorists who want to murder or spread mayhem.
Jesus is calling us to want the best for everyone, even for those who hate us.
Jesus then calls us to be perfect, not in the sense that we will be morally faultless in our daily conduct -- although that would be a noble thing:
but he is calling us to be perfect in the sense that we try to love as God loves: indiscriminately, generously, and with abandonment.
Yes it is easy to love those who will return our favors or invite us to dinner after we invite them to our table. But we all know it is more difficult to love when we know we will never be repaid in any way.
In rejecting the wisdom of this world -- Jesus isn't asking us to become doormats. Nor does St. Paul - whom no one would consider a doormat!
St. Francis of Assisi taught us the way of being a channel of God's peace. And Martin Luther King proved that responding in non-violent ways was the best way to secure civil rights.
The same was true of Mahatma Gandhi.
It is much more difficult to embrace the wisdom of the cross than to embrace the wisdom of the world which often promotes violence, hatred, betrayal, greed, and misunderstanding.
But IF we have the courage to embrace the wisdom of the cross-- then we will truly be holy and the temple of God.
We have done many things in this Church building to enhance our worship space. . . But the real temple dwells not in this building --but in this parish community -- in each one of us -- especially when we take seriously the wisdom of the cross and trust in the transforming love of Jesus Christ –
who died not just for the righteous -- but for everyone.
Through our embracing the cross – we become holy just as God is holy. A good thought to carry with us into Lent – where new life awaits us
So we continue to read from the Sermon on the Mount - which began with the Beatitudes aa couple of weeks ago. And we will finish up next week - right in time for Lent. . .
I hope I don't shock you with the fact that Lent is right around the corner. And it's probably good that we hear almost all the Sermon of the Mount before Lent begins -- as this is the most intense and comprehensive teaching on following Christ that St. Matthew gives us in all of his Gospel. So good food for thought to carry into Lent.
St. Matthew is writing his Gospel for Jewish Christians - he quotes more from the Jewish Scriptures than the other 3 evangelists.
In his Gospel, Matthew wants to demonstrate to his Jewish audience that Jesus is the new Moses -- giving a new Law.
That's why he has Jesus giving this teaching from a mountain, rather than a plain, as does St. Luke in his Gospel.
Much as Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Law, the 10 Commandments, from God, Jesus gives the new Law from a mountain-side.
And so Jesus presented not 10 -- but 8 beatitudes: eight attitudes which those who follow the new law of love---must put into practice in their lives.
Those who practice these attitudes will be like salt and light -- as we heard last week -- they preserve and enlighten themselves and so those around them.
Today, as Jesus continues his teaching, he addresses the question which would have been on the minds and hearts of the original Jewish readers of this Gospel: HOW DOES THE OLD LAW OF MOSES RELATED TO THIS NEW LAW OF LOVE WHICH JESUS GIVES?
Jesus answers by stating that he has not come to abolish the Law of Moses -- but to fulfill it. Then he gives six specific examples. We hear the first four today -- and surprise, surprise--- will hear the other two next Sunday.
So if we are to become intentional disciples of Jesus and provide salt and light to our world --- we need to reflect on each of the examples and change our behavior if needed -- which is what Lent is all about. . .
The 5th commandment of the Law of Moses forbids murder. But Jesus wants to lessen the chances of that even being a possibility -- by avoiding anger.
Now Jesus is not talking about our human emotion of anger, which we all share.
He is not referring to the healthy ways in which we need to express that human emotion.
No, Jesus is talking about deep seated resentments and hatreds and prejudices which can consume us and damage and destroy human relationships.
That's why we give each other the sign of peace before receiving Christ in the Eucharist - it's a way of saying that we are willing to work on reconciliation with those against whom we may be holding grievances.
The 6th commandment of the Law of Moses forbids adultery. So does Jesus.
However, he also wants to make sure things don't get to that point by warning against the danger of making a person into an object of desire.
Which is why pornography is so dangerous -- it encourages the type of lust which Jesus warns against.
The Law of Moses DID allow for divorce. However, because of the patriarchal society of the time -- only husbands could file for a divorce - and not even have to give a reason.
The wife had absolutely no rights. Once her husband got rid of her - she could be forced into another marriage or even into prostitution in order to survive.
Jesus calls married disciples to a higher standard. And to this day, the Church continues to teach that only death can end a valid bond of marriage.
We do not regard divorce as a way ending a marriage which was validly entered into with full consent. And so the Church urges married couples to do everything possible to repair any damage to a marriage.
The Law of Moses regulated the social system of Jesus' day. A person of lower social status swore an oath to a patron - who cared for them and watched over them and protected them.
While we don't have such a system today -- our peers or our business interests might put us at odds with Gospel values. So Jesus tells us as his disciples - we must always tell the truth and fulfill our oaths to God alone.
In his Sermon on the Mount: Jesus clearly raises the bar of expectations for us, his disciples. Jesus' new law deepens the wisdom which Sirach describes in the first reading.
God has clearly shown forth his love for us in allowing his Son to be sacrificed on the cross. This love is extended to everyone.
But as Sirach points out -- God never forces love upon us -- God always gives us a choice.
We can ignore that love and do whatever we want.
OR, we can choose to imitate that love by living Christ's new commandment to love one another as he has loved us.
Living as faithful and intentional disciples of Jesus involves making life-changing choices to accept God's mysterious wisdom made present in the cross.
Living as faithful and intentional disciples-- doesn't just involve making one big choice for the direction of our lives -- it also involves embracing that wisdom in the choices we make every day.
And in making these daily choices, we live out the Gospel message -- and provide hope in our darkened world – which definitely needs the light of Christ to brighten it.
In living out the Gospel message: day in and day out: WE BECOME SALT AND LIGHT.
Moments in time...