Gospel Matthew 5:17-37
“If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven”
Jesus offers us some rather terrifying words in the Gospel today. He extends the reach of the basic moral code to which we all try to adhere to something more radical than we are perhaps comfortable with.
In fact, for Jesus, it is not enough for his followers not to kill, or to commit adultery, but he tells us that to harbour anger or lust in our hearts is just as bad. This is indeed a difficult teaching.
Commenting on this passage, now Saint John Paul II asked poignantly, “Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?” (Oct 8, 1980). These are our two options: despair or faithfulness/sanctity. On our own, without the power of God’s Holy Spirit these words are too much for us to bear – I simply cannot live up to this standard. I am too weak. But we are not left alone – the Christian faith is not some sort out hyper-stoicism that sets mammoth or superhuman moral standards and leaves us to work it out. No. Quite to the contrary, this exceptionally high level of morality in fact operates as the result of an encounter. The moral life, according to the Christian faith, is the direct result of an encounter with a person – it operates as a response of love. And it is through this living encounter though the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Sacraments that believers are empowered to overcome sin and hurt and live lives of heroic virtue – virtue that ‘goes deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees.’
‘It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man’ (VS, 103) these teachings are not impossible, or merely counsels for the particularly pious. The call to holiness is for us all, it is universal (LG ch. 5).
Point to Ponder
Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. “It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man” ? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit”
John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 103