Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 5:17-37
I’ve been walking through a set of circumstances where I’ve had a really hard time knowing the right thing to say and do in my interactions with people I love very much. This has been a strange thing for me; normally, I have a good sense of what is needed interpersonally. When I have wanted to bring comfort—to help people to feel better—I’ve known how to do that. But lately, it feels like I’ve gotten things wrong more often than I’ve gotten them right. I’ve wanted a playbook of rules for my specific situations but haven’t been able to find one.
This has left me wide open to attack by the enemy on my identity, and he has not missed out on the opportunity. Who am I if I am not a mother who always knows what to do? Who am I if I am not a friend who can always say the right thing? Who am I if my words wound when I intend them to heal?
I have been a rule follower all my life. Bending the rules or trying to get away with little compromises leaves me with a sick stomach. Add to this my strong bent towards perfectionism, and you’ve got a person who really likes it when expectations are clear, and I don’t think I’m going to make any mistakes. When discernment feels cloudy, I come a bit undone. My fear of messing up, combined with my desire to please, can be a bit paralyzing.
Our gospel reading this week continues with Jesus’ manifesto on what the kingdom of God is like, otherwise known as the Sermon on the Mount. In this portion of the gospel, Jesus is sharing some of His most controversial teachings and laying down a new ethic. He is taking rules that the Jewish people have been following for centuries and bringing a new interpretation. When I imagine being in the crowd listening to His teaching, I think I would have been one of the people feeling very uncomfortable.
Jesus took teachings on murder, adultery, divorce, and taking oaths, and began by saying, “You have heard that it was said” (Matthew 5:21). Heads must have nodded in agreement. Yes, they had heard those rules, and they’d done their best to follow them. But then Jesus continued, saying, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5:22). He took what the law had required and amended it. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus preached, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Then in verses 27-28, He continued in the same vein, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
In every case, Jesus laid down a new law that brought all sorts of situations into question. Things that the people had felt weren’t that big a deal, little ways the rules could be bent, decisions and actions that didn’t need to be taken so seriously, all came under the microscope. A new standard was raised—one that was a lot harder to achieve. People could feel pretty good about themselves for not murdering anyone, but now Jesus was saying they had to pay attention to their anger? Cheating on a spouse could be avoided with some degree of effort, but now Jesus was saying that even thoughts about someone else mattered?
What Jesus was teaching over and over was one great principle that could apply to all situations. That one great principle was seeking God’s will continuously. Once it was discovered, it was essential to dedicate one’s life to obeying it. But what should be done when one can’t see exactly what God’s will is in a situation?
St. Augustine once said, “Love God, and do what you will.” This means the starting point is the love of God. To love God well, we need to know what matters most to Him. What is that? That we perfectly follow all the rules? That we never make a mistake? No. He knows us too well for that. God knows our weaknesses. But He does call us to love, to the best of our ability, in every interaction and decision.
The starting point is not our ability to always know just what to do. As Saint John Paul II wrote in his first encyclical, “Man remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love.” So we begin with our relationship with God. We focus first on our love relationship with Him. God is love and truth, and we need Him to love us first and reveal to us the truth of who we are. Without Him, we can’t even comprehend ourselves, let alone what we’re supposed to do in grey situations. Our identity is bestowed on us by Him, and He names us His beloved daughters. We start here—with the simple fact that we belong to the Lord, He loves us, no matter what we do or do not do.
When we don’t know how to love, we don’t begin by trying to figure things out on our own. We start by encountering the love of God—resting in it—being saturated by and enveloped in it. The more confusing our set of circumstances, the more inadequate we feel, and the longer we need to continue to sit. This takes patience and trust. But if we wait, He will come through. We’re to focus first on loving God—to make this our highest priority.
Then we let Him love us in our weakness. We hear Him call us His beloved daughters. We share with Him our confusion and our needs. The next step is to surrender. We say to Him, “Jesus, I trust in you. Take care of everything.” When He reveals something He wants us to do, we do it quickly, without worrying about getting everything perfect. It isn’t all up to us. It’s all up to Him. And He is up to the job.
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling…
Is there a decision you need to make or a situation that is causing you to feel confused? Can you come to God in your weakness, and ask Him to take care of everything?
Dear Lord, Thank you for stepping into the chaos of my life and bringing your supernatural peace. Shine light on the next step I should take—the way in which you are calling me to love. Amen.
 John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, encyclical letter, Vatican website, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_04031979_redemptor-hominis.html, section 10.