|by Angela Lambert|
February 11th, 2017; 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “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. “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. “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. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”
Freedom in Christ, is founded on freedom from being fake. We are masters at the false front. By an early age most of us can pull off “I’m fine” to anyone who asks, no matter how untrue it may be. Keeping up appearances, looking successful, and seeming to be more than we are occurs in every time period and culture. Social media amplifies today’s version, as we can literally craft our public persona via selective posts and pictures.
We not only mask our imperfections, we often mask our sins as well. From the back-handed compliment, to disparaging remarks prefaced by “God bless her soul, but…”, to shallow mantras like “You only live once” or “it’s not like it’s against the law”, we rationalize our viciousness in countless ways. Like addicts, we deny we have a problem with sin and we excuse and blame our behavior on everyone and everything but ourselves.
Just has sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin can only be wrought from an utter realness about ourselves. When Moses asked God to reveal His Name, God responded that it is “YHWH” or “I AM”. God revealed that He is. God is being and existence. Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.
C.S. Lewis writes about this mystery in a brilliantly imaginative way in his book “The Great Divorce.” The divorce in this case refers to the divide between heaven and hell, and describes the process of purgation for those still travelling to heaven. He describes inhabitants of hell, drawing from scriptural imagery, as phantoms. On the opposite spectrum, he calls those in heaven “solid people.” The main character arrives at a gray bus stop, phantom-ish, and his journey toward heaven is one of becoming more solid – or more “real”. To do this he must surrender all that he keeps false within himself. I won’t give away more than that, as I highly recommend this read! I will only offer this teaser – Lewis creates numerous characters whose struggle to move from ghostish versions of themselves to the authentic provides deep insight into the rationalizations with which most of us struggle, the pain of conversion, and the joy of authentic freedom.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us interior conversion and introspection. In today’s Gospel passage, He directly calls us out on how we tip toe around the truth and avoid real virtue and, in consequence, real love and relationship.
How many times have we heard the excuse, “well, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone. I’m a decent person.” Yet, harboring anger can be deeply destructive and emerge in violence that might be more subtle, but no less real. Passive-aggressive behaviors, online bullying, slander, gossip, critical remarks and callous attitudes prevent relationship and they hold us back from heaven. Jesus states clearly, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (MT 5:20) and “be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (MT 5:48) A man who loves his wife, doesn’t look lustfully at other women. A woman who loves her husband, doesn’t flirt with other men. Does it matter whether or not it’s technically adultery? Jesus calls out the dishonesty. Either way, it certainly feels like cheating to the other spouse. Why? Because love is total, exclusive, and lifelong. Our love for our spouse should mirror love for God. In fact, God created the first man and woman in the state of marriage because as two persons in a relationship of life-giving love, they imaged the Triune God.
Authenticity begins by simply letting our Yes be yes, and our No be no. Drop the exaggerations and minimizations. Leave the white lies. Take down the false fronts. It feels like going a day without make-up at first, but not forever. As we become more at peace with ourselves, we become more comfortable in the truth. Eventually the fake-ness we clung to in the past will feel like too much make-up, caked on, that you can’t wait to wash off at the end of the day.
Jesus wants us, not the façades we create. He accepts us as we are and helps us become the truest version of ourselves. When this happens, we can begin to experience the real relationship, and real love necessary for heaven.
- List your most common struggles in a day, then pray about what interior attitude or disposition underlies it.
- consider the 7 capital sins for ideas (pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony)
- What is your most common/tempting rationalization?
- In what ways have you grown in authenticity over the years? Reflect on how good it feels to be yourself.
- Who is someone you can be completely yourself around; who knows the “real” you?
- Consider how honesty is necessary for relationship.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Tackle one rationalization this week. Be direct with yourself and with God. Name the struggle, occasions of temptation, and the rationalization you use. Decide on how you will avoid the temptation or create a counter-mantra to repeat when you hear yourself rationalizing.
- Daily struggle: Crabby toward your spouse and kids
- Occasions of temptation: Getting out the door in the morning, right after a long day at work, or when interrupted during a project.
- Rationalizations: “They’re my family and should love me unconditionally – this is just who I am”; “I work hard to care for my family, and it just means I will be stressed out”
- Counter-mantras: “They’re my family – they deserve my best behavior”; “I need to find balance in my life so I can be a peaceful person to my family”
- Avoiding temptation – Begin the day 10 minutes earlier so you aren’t stressed about running late (even better, begin with a prayer!); create transition time between work and home – listen to Christian music on the drive and count your blessings so you arrive with a positive attitude; adjust expectations for completing projects – expect to get interrupted by kids and be grateful for them, try to include them in the project if possible
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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