The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
February 16, 2020 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 5:17-37
Today’s gospel offers us important parts of what came to be called “The Sermon on the Mount.” Two ideas are woven through these sayings. One, to be a true disciple of Jesus requires not just certain actions, but more important deep attitudes. It includes not just what we do, but what’s in our hearts. Second, many of these qualify as what some call “the hard sayings” of Jesus. Jesus was not an “anything goes” sort of person. He challenged his listeners to do difficult things, back then and now.
Past US president, Jimmy Carter, has been respected by most of us over the years as a virtuous man, a good Christian. Well into his 90’s, he still takes his hammer to sites where Habitat for Humanity is building homes for needy families. Years back he confessed in public that he had difficulty with some of the teachings of Jesus. Particularly the one where Jesus condemned those who gazed at others with lust in their hearts. He would not be the only one, I suspect. We hear about that challenge in today’s gospel.
What Jesus points to in this sermon is that true virtue and morality are not simply a matter of what we do, but also what we think. In biblical language this often means what’s in our hearts. What is our basic orientation to God, to others and to ourselves? In biblical times the heart was thought of as the center of personal life. Today we would use words like “basic attitude or orientation” or what are our deep thoughts. When parents are in the role of correcting wayward teens, they might ask, “What were you thinking?” This is not a question most teens would want to answer. Partly because they may not even know.
God through Jesus wants us to know (using another gospel idea) that where our heart is, there is our treasure. In other words, God wants us to know that God values our full honesty and authenticity. No faking. No hypocrisy. God sees and judges our hearts.
Religion can too easily slip into a parade of external activities. We can attend religious services, devoutly say our prayers and do what God’s commandments require while at the same time be a person who ignores the needs of others, treats certain groups with distain or is heartless when it comes to truly caring about the poor and needy. Our hearts might be hardened. Deep down, we do not care about what’s happening to others. Our focus is mostly on our own wellbeing. So honestly, explore your inner world, your thoughts and judgments and see if you measure up to having a heart that is afire with love of God and neighbor. Especially love of those you live close to.
©David M. Thomas, PhD
REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Download this simple process to Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method of Review of Life.