Friday, March 3, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 5:20-26

In Today’s Gospel, we again find justice as the central theme. Righteousness in the biblical sense has primarily to do with our ‘horizontal’ conduct, how we conduct ourselves toward others. It also carries with it a judicial standing or approval, which generally speaks to our condition of acceptance before God. What Jesus teaches us is that the latter conceptualization cannot be detached from the former. The way we are toward our fellow man has a direct correlation to our standing with God. In fact, I would argue that the standing we have with God is conditional upon our righteousness toward others. The readings from the prophet Ezekiel chapter 18 lend strong support to this idea. We cannot be ‘right with God’ unless we are ‘right with our brother’. 


The first thing we hear from Jesus today is that our approval or standing must go beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees. We know from other Gospel readings that these groups were often targeted by Jesus for their hypocrisy; outwardly being pious yet spiritually distant from God. We cannot do what merely would appear righteous to the outside observer. Instead, we must have total alignment from the interior to the exterior. Jesus teaches us that it is not what is outside that defiles (makes us unclean) but what is inside us determines our being defiled. We then get several examples of what this means. These are not abstractions, either. We can easily remember times when we were perhaps violently angry with another person or when we wrote them off in our own minds (or told others) that someone was useless or foolish. We have seethed internally in anger at another person as we smiled at them. We have muttered under our breath or perhaps wished ill on someone we perceive as our rival or competitor. 

Jesus asks us to let go of these things. He wants to cleanse us and relieve us of these burdens. Most of the time, we burden ourselves by holding fast to the finite. We continually choose to see only a fixed pie, not enough to go around. We take an effectively Malthusian view of our lives. We want to hoard and ration. We can only care so much, we tell ourselves. There’s a limit to what I can tolerate, we repeat over and over. When we don’t actively and continually offload these burdens to the Lord in prayer, when we don’t receive the necessary infusions of grace through the sacraments, we find ourselves saddled with the weight of sin and the anxiety-provoking feeling of painting ourselves into a corner of finitude.

We need spiritual, emotional, and mental energy that cannot come from any finite, temporal source. We need the body and blood of Jesus to nourish us. We need to pray and unload our burdens to God in prayer. We need the cleansing of reconciliation. We need to hear things in music and song that elevate our minds to the heavenly realm. We need to fill our minds with good literature, poem, and Scripture. We need to habitually give of ourselves so that the other becomes a habit of mind. These practices, which are brought before our eyes constantly in the Lenten season, are how we can be righteous and avoid the pain of being imprisoned “until the last farthing.”

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