Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23
Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 Matthew 5: 38-48
If only I’d win the lottery, then my life would be perfect. If only I’d find my dream job, then my life would be perfect. If only my spouse and kids would finally listen and do things my way, then my life would be perfect. If only I could get 6-pack abs from eating chocolate, then my life would be perfect. If only….
In today’s Gospel from Matthew we hear Jesus make mention of being perfect. It’s perhaps a little different than the humorous examples I just gave. He says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Did anyone else out there hear this and think to themselves, “You’ve got to be kidding me! How am I supposed to be perfect like God???” I have a better chance at getting the abs from eating chocolate than being perfect like God!
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly Jesus is telling us to do in order to be perfect like our Heavenly Father. According to this Gospel passage, we are to offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes us on our right cheek, turn the other one as well. If someone wants our shirt (tunic), we are to give him our coat (cloak) as well. If someone wants us to go one mile to help them, offer to go 2 miles. We shouldn’t turn our back on someone who wants to borrow something. Lastly, we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In our modern society, these statements seem preposterous… ridiculous… out of touch with reality.
Now recall last week’s Gospel. It was the verses in Scripture just prior to today’s Gospel reading. It was the one that told us to tear out our eye and to cut off our hand if it causes us to sin. The reasoning behind this was that it is better to lose a part of our body now if that would keep us out of hell in the afterlife. Again… this seems preposterous… ridiculous… out of touch with reality.
When things appear ridiculous or unrealistic in Scripture, we need to closely examine the overall message. It’s important to not take things out of context. This is where many people get into big trouble.
Ephesians 5: 21-33 is perhaps my favorite example of taking things out of context. This is the famous text that tells a wife to be subordinate to her husband. I’ve personally heard men use this text to try and prove that men are superior to women. You know… since it’s “in the Bible.” Unfortunately, these men have a bad understanding of the text and have taken it waaaaaayyyyyyy out of the context that St. Paul intended. If one reads this text in its entirety and with understanding, it actually is the most beautiful description of married love. It’s telling the wife to allow the husband to be willing to lay down his life in service for her, just like Christ laid down His life for the Church. That is what wives are supposed to be subordinate to…. Not abuse, degradation or being made to feel inferior… but to allow the husband to serve her. Even to the point of death if necessary. Proper context changes everything.
I believe that this week’s Gospel reading, along with last week’s, has the potential to also be taken out of context. At first glance, both the readings would make us believe that all Christians should be 1. Missing appendages, 2. Have bruises on our face from constantly turning the other cheek to our enemies, and 3. Be broke since we gave everything away to anyone who asked.
Deacon Bruce did an excellent job last week in his homily of explaining the meaning behind the “cut off your hand” Gospel. Jesus used extreme examples of cutting out eyes and cutting off hands, instead of sinning, to shock us into self-reflection. The message is that avoiding sin and occasions of sin are so important, that we must be willing to go to extremes. Sometimes we need to make serious changes in our lives because the afterlife is really and truly that important. We need to take it seriously now, before we are standing face to face with God on our judgment day.
Today’s Gospel from Matthew, which continues the theme of extreme examples from last week, is just as serious and important to consider. Obviously we can’t be perfect like God. But we sure can try. We sure can pursue perfection. Jesus is telling us today in His examples to do more than just the bare minimum when it comes to helping those in need. If I was to summarize today’s Gospel into a common phrase we all have heard, it would be to “go the extra mile” to help others.
Want to go even farther? Let’s combine last week’s Gospel theme with today’s Gospel theme. Stop sinning + Help others. Isn’t that a great description of what it means to “pursue perfection?” To stop sinning means we are actively making an effort to put God first in our lives. It means we are actively trying to live out His commandments. Helping others means we are living a life of service.
Stop sinning + Help others. It’s also important to note here what it is NOT saying. It’s not saying life is all about YOU.
I went on a marriage retreat with my wife this past weekend. The priest said if we want to find JOY, then we need to put our priorities in the right order. He then pointed out that if we take the word “JOY” and break it down, we get: J = Jesus, O = Others, Y = You. Last week’s Gospel was about avoiding sin and following JESUS. This week’s Gospel is about helping OTHERS. Now, it’s up to YOU.
Lent begins in a few days with Ash Wednesday. Don’t just go through the motions. Go deeper. We need to evaluate our own lives and put things in the proper context. Then… actually commit and make the necessary changes this Lent. How? Root out all sin. Root. Out. All. Sin. Start that by coming to the Parish Penance Service on March 11 and confess your sins. Burdens will be lifted. Hearts will be opened. Stress will fade. God will fill us with His Grace. Come and get a fresh start.
Then let us commit to serving others in our family and community. Don’t just do the minimum. Go the extra mile and be a light for someone else. C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see Him.”
Let us use this Lent to get our priorities in the right order. This will allow us to fully experience the love and JOY that awaits us with our risen Lord on Easter.
Love God. Avoid Sin. Help Others. This is how we discover joy. This is how we pursue perfection.