Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 29, 2017

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here when I say that for the most part, we are all good and decent people.  Right?  Most of us will drop what we are doing and help our neighbor if they are in a pickle.  We don’t intentionally hurt people and if we do, most of the time we apologize.  When we see someone or hear of someone in need we tend to dig in our pockets and share.  We’ll figure out a way to tolerate people, even people sometimes who, in our humble opinion, are just plain wrong.  

But the compelling question the gospel carries us to today is this: do we do good things for the right reason?  I know, shouldn’t doing good things be good enough?  Do we really have question our intention if what we are doing is OK?  I think so.  And here’s why:

Because when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, it isn’t just about doing good.  It’s also about the spirit in which we do it.  There are a lot of good people in the world who do not follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ and still do very good things.  But following the Gospel of Jesus Christ goes beyond what we do…to the root of why we do it.  

You see, if our concern for truth comes from self righteousness, proving we are right and someone else is wrong, or if in our quest for justice someone gets trampled, if in our moral righteousness we condemn others, are we truly acting as disciples of Jesus?  Does it matter how right or orthodox we are if what we are doing isn’t brought about by love?

Anybody can wave the banner of tolerance to avoid a conflict or give generously knowing that the tax deduction in April will take the bite off the sacrifice.  Walking away from a challenging relationship might bring us peace, but what kind of hurt have we left behind?  Every high school and college student knows what groups to belong to make the resume more impressive, but are we doing it to make the world better or to make us look better?  We can speak politically correct language but who have we actually invited to our table or stood up for lately?  

The Jewish people, especially the Pharisees, understood the law.  They knew very clearly what side of the line they stood at all times.  Things were black and white.  And we aren’t all that different.  We know if we are within the boundaries of law, if we are following the policy, if we will come out of this looking good.  We can prove our innocence and justify our decisions.   -   But God also knows we can stand on one side the line and our hearts can be the other.  That’s where the challenge comes in.

It is one thing to obey the laws of God out of fear; it is quite another to do so out of love.  It is one thing to stay on the right side of the law of the land or school or community or family or church so we don’t get into trouble; it is quite another to do it out of love.  It is one thing to come out smelling like a rose; it’s another to bring a rose to the table.

Jesus did not abolish the law.  In fact, he spoke often in favor of it.  But he asked the Pharisees to look at where their hearts were.  He brought love back into the equation and it changed everything.  He brought the passion of God back into the law of God.  In fact, he made love the law.

To love someone, God or our neighbor, with our “whole heart and soul and mind” requires us to find the passion of Jesus Christ.  That passion of God, then, can actually empower us to do things that we never thought we could do.  To love first and then to act upon that love lets us see the world in a whole new way.  We will be able to sacrifice in ways we never thought possible.  We will be able to take risks in love of our brothers and sisters that we never thought we could take.  We can be wildly radical by worldly standards if we speak the language of God’s love.  

Being good, doing the right thing, being generous, even acting justly - these things do not make us uniquely Christian.  But doing these things because we love God and neighbor first, that’s what makes us Christian.  That’s loving with our all our hearts and all our minds and all our souls.  That’s what Jesus was talking about.

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