I will leave the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh this morning, filled with gratitude for the many graces of this retreat. It was my privilege to direct four retreatants this past week, and it is always a joy to see how God works with each individual.
Yesterday, I had the additional privilege of preaching at Mass. The Gospel, part of the Sermon on the Mount, was the second of three Gospel segments that I sometimes think of as Jesus upping the ante – his series of “you have heard x, I tell you y.” (You have heard do not kill, I say do not harbor anger against your brother; you have heard it said do not commit adultery, I say do not lust after another, and so on.)
I suggested in my remarks that I think what Jesus is doing here is inviting us to get underneath the literal words of the commandments to the heart of the matter. He is encouraging us to a broader way of thinking about what it means to live in accordance with God’s standard, asking us to grapple with how we are asked to live our lives in an affirmative sense, not just to avoid the really big bad things.
That is a challenge in our world, which invites us to think in terms of minimum standards, doing just what is necessary to satisfy the literal requirements imposed on us. Being a good Christian (or any person of faith) is not all that challenging if all I have to do is meet the literal words of the “law.” I joked about how easy it would be to do our daily Examen: we could sit with our Ten Commandment scorecard and check off, “Didn’t kill anyone today, didn’t commit adultery, didn’t steal anything. I’m golden.”
But, what if do not kill means offering love and kindness to someone who seems unloveable rather than saying or doing something to tear them down?
What if do not steal means not taking more than a reasonable share of the world’s resources and avoiding wasting what I have?
What if do not bear false witness means having the courage to speak the truth in love in a situation where it is difficult for me to do so, but where I can do some good?
What if (to use example one of the other directors on the retreat used in his talk) not taking the name of God in vain means adopting a humility that accepts I don’t know all there is to know about God?
That is a lot more challenging. But that gets to the heart of the matter. It is not about rules and punishment, but about a choice (Ignatius always emphasizes choice) to live in a manner befitting our creation in image of God.
And that is what Jesus is inviting us to, to embrace the fullness of who we are, to live for the greater glory of God, not just to skate by on minimum standards.