Sunday, February 13, 2011

Raising the Bar

Homily from the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Every time a track and field athlete clears the bar in the high jump, he pushes the bar up another notch and strives to make a higher jump.  This, of course, is where we get the phrase “raising the bar.”

You could say that Jesus is “raising the bar” for us in today’s Gospel.  We continue to hear the greatest speech of all time: the Sermon on the Mount.  And our reading today is the beginning of what scholars call “The Antitheses.”  So-called because Jesus cites a number of laws from the OT as theses statements that begin, “You have heard it said…” and immediately responds to each with his own antitheses that begin, “But I say to you…” each time, raising the bar.

You have heard it said you shall not kill.  But I say to you, do not even get angry with one another

You have heard it said you shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you, do not even look with lust at one another.

I have heard people ask, “Didn’t Jesus do away with the old law and make life easier?”  The answer is no.  The old law said, do not kill. Jesus said do not even get angry. Which law is more demanding?  The old law said, do not commit adultery. Jesus said do not lust. Is Jesus requiring more or less of us?

You might ask, “Why does Jesus demand more of us? Shouldn’t he make it easier?”  But it’s no different than graduating from one grade to the next.  The more knowledge we acquire, the more we’re expected to know.

The old law was given to us so we could first learn the difference between good and evil.  Now we are given a savior so we can learn to truly love one another.

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.”  Jesus brings the old law to fulfillment by digging deep within our hearts and getting to the root of our sins.  He raises the bar and takes us to the next level; to the ultimate goal, to perfection.

The law and the prophets and the law of Jesus do not conflict with one another.  But they definitely differ in terms of quality.

Laws always deal in terms of limits.  Don’t drive over the speed limit.  Be home by 11.  Never wear white before Memorial Day.

Jesus however does not want us to be motivated by the limits of law.  Rather, he wants us to be motivated by love which has no limits.  Avoiding anger and lust require us not just to stay within certain boundaries.  They require us to let Jesus into our hearts and to love with his love.

Sometimes I’m asked, “Father, how far is too far?”  But this isn’t really the right question is it?  It’s a question that asks, “How much can I get away with before I really get into trouble?”  Rather, we should ask, “How do I grow in intimacy with someone and remain pure every step of the way?”

Many people use the Ten Commandments as a guide for their examination of conscience before going to confession.  And most people will consider the 5th commandment: “Thou shall not kill” and say, “I haven’t killed anyone. Haven’t broken that one.”  But today, Jesus tells us that when we use bitter speech towards one another, when we say “Raqa” which means “you idiot” to one another we tear at the fabric of that person.  When we gossip, do we not kill someone’s reputation?

People will consider the 6th commandment “Thou shall not commit adultery and say, “I haven’t broken that one.”  But Jesus tells us that to even look with lust at another is a failure to love as we should.  Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “It’s OK to look, but not touch.”  Well, if we believe Jesus, we know this is a huge lie.

Now there’s nothing wrong with normal, healthy human desire.  It’s a gift from God and how we bring new life into the world.  But let’s be honest about what lust is.  Lust is when we use another person for our own satisfaction.  It’s when we objectify another person for our own pleasure.  And love is always and forever about giving, not getting.

If lust is a struggle, one thing you can remind yourself of when you feel that temptation is to remember that that is someone’s daughter... that is someone’s son.

Yes, Jesus is challenging us.  He’s rooting out our root sins.  He’s placing greater demands on us.  And this process is not without its growing pains.  That’s because Jesus is dwelling within our hearts and he’s stretching our hearts, so that we will follow his law of love which knows no limits  He’s raising the bar.  Because with his grace we will clear the hurdles of our sins.

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