More from the Mount

For the last two Sundays we have continued reading from the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes and their contrast with the Commandments are the framework to understand the five practical applications that Jesus offers to his disciples (of then and now.) These applications are a warning against the legalistic approach in matters of faith -especially in how it affects relationships.

From the gospel of the 6th Sunday in Ordinary time, we got:

  • Do not swear (in the sense of making an oath): We do not need a rule to tell us that anything that comes out of our mouths should be the truth.
  • Using the example of adultery, Jesus tells us not to focus on the ultimate commission of an evil act. Jesus looks at the intention, at what is in our hearts and minds well before the evil act is committed. It is a focus on what in classic moral theology we have always called the “near occasion of sin.” Also, we do admit at every Mass that we may have sinned “in our thoughts.”
  • The “You shall not kill” of the Commandments is a very low standard. Most of us are not in the habit of killing people. But we are in the habit of harboring negative thoughts about people.

From the gospel of the 7th Sunday in Ordinary time we got two more practical applications:

  • No more “eye for an eye”: A cancellation of a legal principle, prominent in ancient societies, including Jesus’, that when you were a victim of an offense, you were justified in replying with the same amount of violence. It is known as the Law of the Talion, from the Latin talio which means equal—the origin of the English word retaliation.
  • And lastly, perhaps the most original challenge issued by Jesus, love the enemy. We are asked not only to love the neighbor, the stranger, the foreigner, the poor…but also those who are our “enemies.”

Let us say a bit more about that one. It begs the question: Do you have enemies? We struggle with the question, don’t we? Enemy is a strong word. But it has also been said that perhaps we do not have enemies because we do not stand up for anything, we do not take sides for anybody (of course, there is a Churchill’s that says just that.) We are very polite and we prefer peace at any price (even if the price may be too high sometimes.) Jesus had enemies. If the word is still too hard, try “difficult people.” We all recognize difficult people in our lives.

If nothing else is possible, at least pray for them (I read this week that Jesus does not say that we have to like the enemy, just love them.) Do not harbor evil thoughts against anybody, as it simply not good for you. But perhaps, in some cases, something else can be done. Perhaps we can still reach out to the person in the past who became an enemy, a difficult person, who may not even be part of our lives anymore. Perhaps some relationships can be restored. Perhaps the issue that broke up a relationship has become a petty thing of years past and it is time to reconcile. It is not always possible, but sometimes it may be.

Do you know about Fr. Ricardo’s podcast with Fr. Phillip Bogacki? Give it a listen, on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee website or iTunes.


Salt and Light

This Sunday we read the second installment of the Sermon on the Mount. Between the first section, the Beatitudes, and specific applications of these new commandments, Jesus first asks his disciples to be “salt” and to be “light” in the world. This is both a wonderful encouragement and a demanding challenge. It is another reminder that we can’t just be disciples of a passive law, but disciples who actively attempt to transform the world.

The gospel is paired with an amazing first reading from the prophet Isaiah, who was the “go-to” prophet for Jesus, and the foundation of his preaching. Isaiah reminds us how to be the salt and the light in the world: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own… If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

I suppose no one would deny these are interesting times, difficult to navigate. This first reading becomes a compass to give us direction—regardless of our political or ideological leanings. Peace and security are everyone’s concern. The quote from Isaiah brings to mind another from a modern prophet. Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” It is the demanding unpacking of the Beatitude that calls disciples to be peacemakers who are hungry and thirsty for justice.