Good and Decent People

02-23-2020Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

Many years ago when I was assigned as a parochial vicar (an assistant priest) at the Immaculate Conception Parish, East Weymouth, in the second year of our Confirmation Program one of the classes showed a film called "God in the Dock." It was a contemporary interpretation of a Christian on trial and how to prove the accused had any faith. It was the question: was there "enough evidence" to convict the man in the story for being a Christian. Certainly the idea of "is there sufficient proof in one's life of being a follower of Jesus Christ?" is a healthy and valid question. Have you ever asked yourself this question of "proof"? Often we think there is obvious proof of who we are, but the reality is that no one else thinks so because they cannot perceive it. We tend to think too much or too little of ourselves.

Many folks often make the great mistake of reducing the Old Testament as a testament of justice and the New Testament as a testament of love. We discover in our first reading this weekend that this is patently untrue. In the Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, we hear mainly of the regulations for the priestly tribe of Levi, but more importantly we are reminded of the obligation to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Note how this passage begins an introduction to a series of commands which closely resemble the Ten Commandments, but also exceed them in strikingly extraordinary ways. The words of this Old Testament passage are much closer to the words of Jesus than to the original Ten Commandments.

We know from the Gospel that Jesus was clearly a student of the Sacred Scriptures, and he strongly bore the socially aware spirit which is found in Leviticus 19. Also, there is this strange scene in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is quoting the more primitive laws that once a long time ago guided Israel. Scripture scholars suspect that these ancient and out of date laws were revived by those who wished to taunt the Jewish converts to following the way of Jesus.

The words of Jesus in today's gospel continue to contrast the Jewish Law and its practice with the practice of the followers of Jesus. Our Gospel continues with the formula: "You have heard …" and "What I say to you is …" The old formulas and laws of retaliation were once created to end the vengeful and bloody retaliations common among the peoples that surrounded the struggling people of God. In our gospel today the followers of Jesus are surrounded by people bent on retaliation. Thus Matthew presents Jesus who asks his followers not only not to retaliate at all but also to "turn the other cheek." This is quite the request. Jesus asks that his listeners give to the one who asks more than he or she seeks. Jesus asks us to love and pray for those of our own country and also the alien, for the one who loves us and also the one who hates us.

We should realize that Jesus is not challenging us to be heroes, rather just to be good and decent people. We are to be the authentic children of a God who bestows the blessings of sun and rain on everyone without judgment. The request of this passage is surely most difficult to hear and answer positively.

Letting go of past grievances and grudges is not easy, but it is the way to live a good and Christian Way of Life.