Slideshow of Sanctity – A Meditation on the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of the Year

In the Gospel for this Weekend’s Mass we are well into the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and today we cover a good deal of Chapter 5. In a way the Lord is drawing a picture for us of the transformed human person. He is presenting a kind of slide show of what sanctity really is. In understanding this rather lengthy text we do well to reflect on it in three parts.

I.  The Power of New Life in Christ – We have discussed before that an important principle of the Christian moral vision is to understand that it is essentially received, not achieved. Holiness is a work of God. The human being acting out the power of his flesh alone cannot keep, and surely not fulfill, the Law. The experience of God’s people in the Old Testament bears this out. True holiness (and not mere ethical rule keeping) is possible only by and through God’s grace.

In this sense we must understand the moral vision given by Jesus as a description rather than a mere prescription. Notice what the text says here: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill [the Law]. It is Jesus who fulfills the Law. And we, who are more and more in him, and He in us do what He does. It is His work.

Thus, what Jesus is doing here is to describe what a transformed human being is like:

  • When Jesus Christ really begins to live his life in us (Gal 2:20),
  • When the power of His cross goes to work in us and puts sin to death (Rom 6:2),
  • When Jesus increases and we decrease (Jn 3:30),
  • When our old self is crucified with him so that sin will no longer master us (Rom 6:6-7),
  • When and as all this takes place we are transformed.

This is a work of God, the power is in the Blood and the cross. The power comes to us by grace. It is all a work of God.

Hence, Jesus, in today’s Gospel is not giving us a rigorous set of rules to follow (and they are rigorous) but, is describing what the transformed human person is like. Clearly his description is not some merely impossible ideal, but is set forth as the normal Christian life. The normal Christian is a transformed human person. The normal Christian, to use Jesus description from today’s Gospel, has authority over his anger and sexuality, loves his wife and family and is a man of his word. All this comes to him as the fruit of God’s grace.

It is very important to understand that this is a life offered to us by God. Otherwise we are simply left with moralism here: “Stop being so angry and unchaste, stop getting divorced, and stop lying.”  Rather, what is offered here is new life in Christ where, on account of an inner transformation by the power of grace, we see anger abate, unchastity diminish, the love of others increase, and we speak the truth in love. So the power to do this is not from our flesh, but from the Lord, through the power of his cross to put sin to death and bring forth new life in us.

II. The Principle of New Life in Christ – The key word in Jesus’ moral vision is that, by his grace we do not merely keep the Law, but fulfill it. The key word is “fulfill” and to fulfill means to fill something full, to meet more than what is minimally required and to enter into the full vision and meaning of the Law.

Thus, to use Jesus’ examples in today’s Gospel:

  • It is not enough to refrain from killing, true life in God means that vengeful hatred is removed from me and I love even my enemy and am reconciled with people I have wrongfully hurt or offended.
  • It is not enough merely to avoid adultery, true life in Christ means that I am chaste and pure even in my thoughts, that by God’s grace I have authority over what I am thinking and shun unchaste thoughts.
  • It is not enough to merely follow proper divorce law. True life in Christ means I don’t even want to divorce my wife. I actually love her, and my children. I am reconciled to her and accepting that she is not perfect and neither am I.
  • It is not enough to simply refrain from swearing false oaths. True life in Christ means speaking the truth in love, being a man of my words. The grace of God keeps me from being duplicitous and deceitful.

In all these ways the law is not merely kept, it is fulfilled. It is filled full in that all this implications are abundantly and joyfully lived as Jesus Christ transforms me. Christ came to fulfill the Law and in Christ, as our union with him grows more perfect we also fulfill the Law. For what Christ does we do, for we are in him and he is in us. As he says,  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

III.  The Picture of New Life in Christ. – The Lord then goes on to six pictures of what a transformed human being looks like. In the Gospel for today’s Mass we look at only four. These pictures are often called “antitheses” since they are all formulated as:  You have heard that it was said……but I say to you. But the key point is to see then as pictures of what happens to a person in whom Jesus Christ is really living. Let’s look at each.

A.  On Anger – The text begins: 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 brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Thus the Lord teaches us that the commandment not to kill has a deeper meaning that must be filled full. For, what leads to murder? Is it not the furnace of anger, retribution, and hatred within us? We may all experience a flash of anger and it passes. Further there is such a thing as righteous anger which is caused by the perception of injustice and sin. The Lord himself exhibited this sort of anger a lot. These sorts of anger are not condemned. Rather the anger that is condemned is the anger that is born on hate and a desire for revenge, an anger that goes so far as to wish the other were dead and to deny that they possess any real human dignity. This is what leads to murder.

That the Lord has this sort of anger in mind is revealed in the examples he uses of the expression of this anger: Raqa and fool. These words express contempt and hatred. Raqa is untranslatable, but seems to have had the same impact as the “N-word” today. It is a very hurtful word expressing deep contempt. Now this has to go. It cannot remain in a person in whom the Lord authentically lives. And it will go, to the degree that we allow Christ to live in us. If that be the case then increasingly we cannot hate others, for the Lord is in us and he died for all out of love. How can I hate someone he loves?

The Lord makes it clear that if this doesn’t go, we are going to jail: Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. Thus, either we allow the Lord to effect this reconciliation in us or we’re off to jail. Whether the jail is hell or purgatory (for it would seem there is release from this jail after the last penny is paid), jail it is. We are not going to heaven until and unless this matter is resolved. Why delay the issue? Let the Lord work it now. Don’t  go to jail because of your grudges and stubborn refusal to admit your own offenses.

B. On LustThe text begins: 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. – Thus the Lord teaches us that the commandment against adultery has a deeper meaning beyond merely transgressing marriage bounds. To fill this Law full means to be chaste in all matters and in mind and heart.

It is wrong to engage in any illicit sexual union, but if one is looking at pornography, and fanaticizing about others, sexually, beyond the bounds of marriage, one is already in adultery. What the Lord is offering us here is a clean mind and pure heart. He is offering us authority over our sexuality and thoughts. To some in the world, such a promise seems impossible. But God is able to do and increasingly for those who are in Christ, self-mastery increases and purity of mind and heart become a greater reality. Our flesh alone cannot do this, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ. It is his work in us to give us these gifts.

The text goes on to say: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. Therefore we have to be serious about these matters. The Lord is using hyperbole, but he is using it to make a firm point. It is to say that it is more serious to sin in this matter than to lose your eyesight, or limbs from your body.

Now, most moderns don’t think this way. They make light of sin, and sexual sin, in particular. But God does not make light of it. Jesus here teaches that it is worse to lose our soul than to lose parts of our body. If we were losing our eyesight or a limb to cancer we would probably be begging the Lord to deliver us. But why do we not think of sin in this way? Why are we not horrified by sexual sin in the same degree? We are clearly skewed in our thinking. Jesus is clear that these sorts of sins can land us in hell (which is here called Gehenna). Lustful thinking, pornography, masturbation, fornication, adultery, contraception and homosexual acts have to go. They are not part of life in Christ who wants to give us freedom and authority over our sexual passions.

Let’s be clear, a lot of people today are in some pretty serious bondage when it comes to sexuality. Jesus stands before us all and says, “Come let me live in you and give you the gift of sexual purity. It will be my gift to you, it will be my work in you to set you free from all disordered passion.”

C. On Divorce – The text says, It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife – unless the marriage is unlawful – causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery – At the time of the Lord Jesus, divorce was permitted in Israel, but a man had to follow the rules. But the Lord says to fulfill marriage law is to love your wife, love your husband. He teaches that when He begins to live his life in us, love for our spouse will grow, love for our children will deepen. The thought of divorce won’t even occur! Who wants to divorce someone they love?

If the Lord can help us to love our enemy he can surely cause us to love our spouse. It is a true fact that some of the deepest hurts can occur in marriage. But the Lord can heal all wounds and help us to forget the painful things of the past.

Here too the Lord is blunt. He simply refuses to recognize all this little pieces of paper people run about with saying that some human judge approved their divorce. God is not impressed with the legal document and may well still consider the person married!

Here too the Lord says, “Come to me, bring me your broken marriage, your broken heart and let me bring healing. It is a true fact that sometimes one has a spouse who simply leaves or refuses to live in peace. Here too the Lord can heal by removing the loneliness and hurt that might drive one to a second marriage where (often) there is more trouble waiting. Let the Lord bring strength, healing and restore unity. He still works miracles, and sometimes that is what it is going to take.

D. On Oaths – The text says, Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one. The people of Jesus’ time had lots of legalism associated with oaths and lots of tricky ways of watering down the truth. The Lord says, just cut it all out, and be a man or a woman of your word. When Jesus begins to live his life in us, we speak the truth in Love. When we make commitments we are faithful to them, we do not lie and we don’t play games with the truth. God is truth, and as he lives in us, we too become the truth, speak the truth and live the truth. This is the gift that Jesus offers us here.

So then, Here are four pictures of a transformed human being. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is filled with promises more than prescriptions, descriptions more than prescriptions. The Lord is promising us here what he can and will do for us.

I am a witness to the transformative power of Jesus’ grace and love. And I promise you brethren, in the Lord Jesus Christ,  that everything he offers us here, he will do. It is already happening and taking deep root in my life. How about you? Are you a witness?

This song speaks of the power of Jesus to transform us and of our need for that grace. The text says:

You breathe in me, And I’m alive with the power of your holiness.
You breathe in me, And you revive feelings in my soul
That I have laid to rest
Chorus: So breathe in me, I need you now.
I’ve never felt so dead within, So breathe in me. Maybe somehow
You can breathe new life in me again
I used to be so sensitive to the light that leads to where you are
Now I’ve acquired these callouses with the darkness of a cold and jaded heart

14 Replies to “Slideshow of Sanctity – A Meditation on the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of the Year”

  1. These pictures are often called “antitheses” since they are all formulated as: You have heard that it was said……but I say to you.

    Talk about authoritative scriptural interpretation. The Lord telling folks that, even though their literal understanding of the text of scripture is widespread and accepted, they’ve misinterpreted what He said.

    There is nothing quite like an author telling a bunch of readers that they totally misunderstood the message of his book.

  2. Awesome reflection Msgr. Pope! I wish I could be there when you preach this. This also gives me some insights into next weeks Gospel where Jesus takes love to a higher level again. Being a Christian is tough, no doubt, but the rewards……… priceless.

    God Bless you Msgr. and I pray for your continued health and vigor as a soldier of Christ!

  3. Thank you for this message. Too often I find myself very angry with others. Like you said, truly, how can I hate someone He loves? I’m going to carry that question with me always.
    May God continue to Bless You.

  4. Monsignore, in all due respect I disagree if I understood you correctly.

    Keeping the Covenant is not some awsome incredible achievement.
    The Covenant is a minimum standard and its rules designed to be nothing more, nothing less.

    Most of us can surely refrain from lying, stealing, murdering and violating our mothers. To avoid coveting your neighbours stuff is really not that hard either. And if it really poses a problem, just move somewhere were you have no beighbours.

    I suppose the main problem is avoid being sucked into the material world.
    If you can avoid that, you are pretty much set.

    A good start is to throw the tv out the window. Tv provides you with a constant hidden agenda in all programs and in all advertizing.
    Advertising is designed on the following premise:

    It provides you with access to an imagined group-identity by purchase of a product.
    As a former advertizing-guru I know what I am talking about.

    Yesterday, you made a correct analysis of the super-bowl ad called “I did it”, where you concluded that the power came from the “father.” That is correct. But who is “the Father” in the ad in question?

    On a subliminal level, if you analyse the imagery, – you see Darth Vader trying to achieve stuff he cannot do.
    But you can, if you buy the new volkswagen.

    The only one in the Star Wars saga, with that much power and a friendly relationship with Darth Vader, is the Emperor. Hence the “father” in this ad is the Emperor in disguise, on a symbolic level.

    Thus the real meaning of the ad is this:

    “Buy the new Volkswagen, and become the Emperor.”
    It is thus really an ad for the power of the Dark side of the Force, wich you can soon buy for about 20 000 dollars.

    Now, on the surface the ad was both cute and charming, but on a symbolic level, it is not so cute as it seems.
    It plays on the human need for empowerment.

    Take a second to ponder why anyone would make a car that you can start by remote control.
    The aspect of seeming ability to control your environment with your mind is the USP
    (Unique Sales Proposition)

    This has further implications. It vaguely, delicatly and symbolically suggests that you can buy mental powers
    on a high level, and at the same time boost your childrens confidence in themselves, making them feel god-like, with yourself just slightly above. For the sum of 20 000 dollars you become The Emperor of the galaxy, and even Darth Vader will bow down to you. Or eventually acknowledge your power.

    This was just an example, but these are the kind of messages that are being cooked up at every decent advertizing agency in the world. When I worked there, we allways started by asking “what is the ultimate fantasy?” “What is the deepest human emotion we can possibly relate to this product?” “Where is the heart and the blood?” “What makes our target group cry?” “What gives them goosebumps” “When does the heavens open up and lift the hearts and minds of our targetgroup into emotional extacy?”

    And then, when we had identified all the desired emotional responses we wished from provoke from our audience, only then would we start to build the logics of the story that would enable us to attain that effect.

    The art of advertizing lies in finding the excact tipping-point of emotion, logics and dreams.

    There are no places in the world that discuss the actual contents of true love, life and death, heaven and hell, and mysterious ways deeper and more indept than the advertizing agencies. Except for the church of course.

    My point is this: The smartest and most creative minds in the world all works at advertizing companies.
    They use all their smartness and creativity to sell products to the rest of the crowd by making them feel inferior.

    The inner workings of the soul is what copywriters and art-directors eat for breakfast. They know all your dreams and fears. All your heart`s desires and all your guilty secrets. And they prowl on your insecurities, corner your inferiority complexes and then serves you up redemption in the form of a logo.

    Every time you watch an ad that makes you smile, you are really being mentally treated as a lab-rat fed cocain.
    It is not your fault. It is what these people do for a living. And they are no worse at what they do, than the demons who posessed Anneliese Michel.

    But back to the sermon of the mountain.
    His majesty Jesus Christ did not want His people to feel inferior, He wanted them to be proud of their resistance to the 7 deadly sins.

    He wanted to say to those who really deserved it, that you do not need remote-controlled cars to be God`s favourites. In fact, you do not need anything any Idolaters will try to sell you, the only thing you need is the purity of your souls.

    Goodness would be goodness, even without His Majesty.
    You did not need to be at the moutain 2000 years ago, in order to be counted.

    The blessed will be blessed, by power of virtue.
    And if you belong to the chosen ones, as stated on the mountain, be proud.

    Do not let anyone take away your pride in being chosen. If His Majesty did not want the chosen ones to be proud of themselves, He would never have told them they were blessed.

    Blessed are the poor. The kind. The gentle. The uncared for. The not so bright ones.
    Blessed are all who have given more love than they themselves have received.


    Glory be to God the One true father.
    Sovereign of the universe.
    Master of it all.

  5. Many are called but few are chosen. This would paraphrase that the number of people who choose to follow the life of Christ is a sad statistic concerning mankinds’ emphasis on the worldly things verses the spiritual. As a child born in 1951 I don’t recall advertisements back in that era, for male enhancement, a dependence on sexual performance and maintaining youthful appearance and sex appeal in order to make your life more fulfilling and satisfying. The cycles and realities of life are something to be avoided, ignored and battled against instead of the weaknesses of moral character or the cultivating of virtue. Being a Christian is being down for the struggle and you have everything from, advertisement, television, internet, entertainment industries, political and special interest groups spending big bucks to gain the public’s attention. You have to develope a relationship with reality in order share in the life of Christ. Most are livng it up on Fantasy Ranch and never thinking about the Last Round-up or the Lone Ranger.

    1. The battle is not so much concerned with trying to get your attention anymore.
      They`ve moved beyond that.

      Now the battle is about trying to form your opinion while you are NOT paying attention.
      And they are good at it.

      If you are going to watch TV, or read news, at all, my advise is to watch it like you would watch Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

      Here is a quote from the Exorcist witch I think applies to all mass-media today:

      “He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, …”

  6. Our family was talking about the readings even at supper. They really hit home — this is the way to live. Very practical things our Lord tells us. Your reflection is wonderful. And as much as I love the Internet that has made this possible, I would love to have a book of your reflections on the words of our Lord that I can hold in my hands and read — I know you are working on it, so please let us know when that happens. Thank you and God bless you always.

  7. Hello Mosignnor,

    I am late getting to your article this week. Just wanted to let you know that I use you rmaterial to help explain the Gospel at RCIA. They are so articulate and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing with us.
    God Bless,

  8. Thanks for the good reflection..This is the beauty of the Catholic, will explain the context.

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