Readings: Sirach 15:15-20; I Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching is consistent: he’s challenging our preconceptions. He questions our conventions; he questions our expectations of him. He challenges the conventional notions of anger and forgiveness, of respectable appearances covering the sex drive, of marriage and divorce, of swearing an oath to justify myself.
I find it particularly challenging that he questions how I might perceive him. I’d find it more comprehensible had Jesus said that he was uprooting everything I’d ever heard and had something entirely new to say. Instead he says, Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.
That means that the Law and the Prophets still come from God and are vital. That means that they had not yet been fulfilled by their conventional application. So when I turn them into conventions, when I treat them as a formula to crank out meritorious behavior to save my skin, I’m missing the point. St. Matthew has probably collected these sayings of Jesus to challenge his own Christian community. Conversion isn’t just changing the name of my religion. Conversion, according to the Gospel, is a new perception of reality, generating a new way of behaving, towards myself, towards you and towards God.
Religious conventions, on the other hand, can be substitutes for a living relationship with God. They are a way to keep God at a safe distance, just as etiquette keeps you at a safe distance from me while pretending to respect you. But Jesus is asking me to invite God–and you and even myself–into my life. That’s scary! Jesus is also saying, “If you want security, stick to convention; if you want real life–life in God–you’ll have to risk the comfort of security.”
Haven’t I heard this before? Go sell what you have and give to the poor, then come follow me. Isn’t that more than a charity program? Isn’t that an invitation to risk my identity, how I define myself or even justify myself? Isn’t that asking me to forsake the illusion of security?