This past week’s readings for the daily Mass recall the two stories of creation from the Book of Genesis. These stories have great meaning and purpose for us as Christians. Two important truths about God our Creator are, first, we are made in God’s image and likeness and we are made good; and second, we are given free will to choose how we live in relationship with our Creator. Both of these truths are wonderful statements about the great love God has for each one of us.
Today’s readings remind us in special way of this second point – of the freedom God gives us. We were not made as machines or robots that simply follow orders or commands; rather, out of love, God gives us free will to choose whether to be in relationship with Him. The Book of Sirach tells us that we have choices to make and our choices have consequences. God places before us “life and death,” “good and evil” and if we choose God and place our trust in Him, we will be saved and have life.
Last week, Deacon Matthew reminded us of Jesus’ challenge to be the light and salt to the world and the unique and important role each of us has in this mission. Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount in today’s Gospel by giving us very specific and practical ways that we can be the light and salt to the world. In each of Jesus’ examples in today’s Gospel we are reminded that we have a choice – a choice to love or not. We have the choice for anger or peace; for lust or discipline and respect; to divorce or to up hold the sanctity of marriage AND of our husband or wife; and the choice to make our words honor God or not.
For many of us, these are hard words to hear and are even harder words to follow. It is often not easy to love as we are called to love because we may have never loved that way before or because we may have never been loved by another in that way before. This is also hard, because Jesus is calling us to do more than just the minimum – he is calling us to greatness. And this is the point of Jesus’ Sermon and his statement that he has come to fulfill the law. He wants us to know that God’s commandments are more than just a set of rules. He wants us to know that they are given to us so that we might know God’s love for us and so that we might in turn share that love with others.
You may be like me when you hear this Gospel proclaimed and think that I have certainly failed to love as Jesus calls us to love. Well, don’t be discouraged – there is hope. God in his great love is ready to forgive and to help you and me to do better, so that we can experience the love, the joy, the peace God offers us now and eternally.
To be the Christian men and women we are called to be, St. Paul states us in today’s second reading that we must know and trust in God’s wisdom, not the wisdom of this world. God’s wisdom has been made known to us through the Holy Spirit and we must follow this wisdom. AND we must not be misled or fooled into following what popular culture say is good or right, which may conflict with what God commands of us. For example, such wisdom of the day holds that marriage is a matter of convenience that we can simply ditch when things become difficult; or that the dignity and sanctity of life is not absolute and it is okay abort, execute, and euthanize life. We are called to a higher standard, we are called to follow God’s wisdom, to follow God’s command to love.
Our Christian lives require great humility and trust in Jesus Christ. It is Paul who readily acknowledges in his letter to the Corinthians of his weaknesses and limitations in his ministry to the Corinthians and who is grounded in the truth of God’s love, which motivates him, strengthens him, and frees him to be the man he is called to be. In the same way, we must seek greater humility, be quick to acknowledge our weaknesses and be ready to place our trust in God, and in doing so be empowered by God to be the great Christian we are called to be.
We have a choice. We can chose to respond to the challenge to love presented to us in today’s readings in basically one of two ways. We can say: “I feel overwhelmed and full of doubt, I am weak, I can never respond as God wants me to, I am just not capable of doing this.” OR, we can say: “I trust you God, and with your help because I am not capable of doing this alone, I can and will do this – I will love you and others as you have commanded me to love.”
And, here is the good news: you can do this, and I invite and encourage you to do it! I say this for two reasons. First, this is what God wants! This is what God made us to know and do. And, second, because this is God’s will, God generously gives His grace to help us achieve this. He gives us his grace in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist that we will receive in just a couple of minutes, and in countless other ways so that we can experience his incredible outpouring of love for each one of us.
Jesus promises us in today’s Gospel that “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” With God’s help, let us chose to love as Jesus commands us, so that we too may be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.