6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
I spent my first eight years of my priesthood as a campus minister when I was a young and arrogant, well not arrogant, but more of a brash priest. It was a wonderful time in my life. But that said, because of the narrow range of ages, some issues tended to recur, and of course nothing was more prevalent than the college break up. I was blessed to work at an interfaith center with Protestant and Jewish campus ministry and we eventually decided that on the third break up with the same person, we handed them over to another minister. “I am done, go to the Protestant minister.” Young men and women would come to me with fairly dark stories about the problems with their relationships. They did not or were not allowed to see their friends. There was an obsessive and all-consuming nature to the relationship. They felt small and vulnerable and afraid. When I would point out how unhealthy this all sounded, they insisted this is love. And I would tell them it is not love. They would see. [By the way, what a horrible thing to say. If you have a problem now, I am much better at this. I mean I was right, but that is not the way to say it.]
I bring this up because Jesus does something and claims something extraordinary in the Gospel. On the slopes of the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee, he states, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” He is daring to touch the sacred institution of the law, the life beat of every Jew, the institution that literally ordered their days and their ways. He expands the law, gets to the heart of it; to the motives that move us to sin. It is not enough that we do not kill, everyone understands that. But we must also not give into anger that thrusts us into violence. It is not enough to avoid the obviously destabilizing and heartbreaking sin of adultery, but we must refrain from lust that makes us more vulnerable. Similarly, there is no longer cause for swearing or divorce for this is a new kingdom. And here is the astounding claim, all these things are different because Jesus is in our midst.
I wonder what the people clamoring up the hillside thought when they heard this. How did he have that kind of authority? I wonder what we think now. Does Jesus help us to live this more pure life, this more disciplined life? Is there enough there to quell our roiling anger, to focus our wandering eyes, to speak so forthrightly that you need not make an appeal to God, but to “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No?’” To answer that, we have to go back to the college break up.
I would tell those forlorn and lovesick young people that when they indeed were in love it would feel very differently. Their world would not shrink to two people but expand to many more. They would be better friends and they would find their care and commitment extended to far more people. Joy would be their measure and the sharing of that joy their delight. And I had no better feeling than when a couple of months or years later and truly in love, they would say, “I get it now.”
After all, doesn’t true love lift all of us? Don’t we see ourselves as more capable, more blessed and more treasured when we are in love? Only love makes us daring enough to create and raise life. Only the tenderness of friendship allows us to see everyone as precious. For when we have known love, we are not satisfied unless everyone has lived in this light. Once we have known peace, we want for all the world. Once we have witnessed justice, we demand it for others and once we have known joy, we are bound to share it.
And this is why Jesus is central to the fulfillment of the law. For there are times when we feel unloved and unlovable. There are times when peace seems an impossible thought and joy a distant memory. There are times when for all the love that others have for us, we cannot feel it. These are when we are most likely to give into our long simmering anger; when we surrender to our most base instincts and urges; when we fail to love others and ourselves. And then we recall the story of perfect God becoming perfect man wholived selflessly, loved widely and then, in an act of undeniable sacrifice, he gave himself up to death so that we might never doubt how much we are worth. And he did it for each one of us. When everything else disappears, that love reminds us of who we are and what we are capable of. We can love in the way of the kingdom. We can do anything for nothing is impossible with God.