Jesus wants you…to be different; to be different than the world around you; to be different from the self-serving, self-centered values of our culture today.
Jesus wants you, and me to be different. To be salt and light in our bland and dark world.
Jesus wants you, and me to be different. To go deeper than just mere action, but in our thoughts and what resides in the depths, the deepest recesses of our hearts.
For Jesus, it’s not about abolishing the Law of Moses which was to bring freedom and guidance to the people, but the fulfillment and the true meaning of what God intended.
For Jesus, it was about embodying the Truth of God. Jesus, the new Moses who goes up the mountain like Moses, not to receive the Law from God, but rather in his very person to BE the revelation of God, for he is God.
Each Sunday we only get snippets, small sections of the Gospel and so easily can lose the context. We are just at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ foundational teaching. This week and next, Jesus teaches and demands that his followers not just behave well, but radically change their lives from the inside out.
There is a big difference. We can change our exterior behavior and our words to be nice, to fit in, to not rock the boat. We all fake it from time to time. We know what we need to do to get by nearly every situation: at work, at home, at school with our families, our friends, our enemies, in church and at prayer.
Jesus is teaching that we need interior change not just superficial, outward niceties. Given this standard that Jesus sets, we have a huge problem and task on our hands.
“You have heard it said to our ancestors, ‘You shall not kill.’ But I say to you, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgement.” He adds: “And whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” That means a lot of us are going to be liable, because a lot of us are saying “You fool.”
The “rising hatred” phenomenon is happening not just in politics. The number of people who say they experience significant rudeness at work rose to a 62% majority in 2016, according to Georgetown University research, affecting productivity and mental health. It has only gotten worse since the last presidential election.
Many of us think we are good Christians because we are superficially polite: We control our behavior despite thinking terrible thoughts inside. That’s not good enough for Jesus. He wants us to love our neighbor for real, in our heart, and then speak to them based on real love, not to provoke them or dodge them.
If you look at Jesus’ expectations for how we treat the opposite sex, it gets even more difficult.
“You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman (or a man) with lust has already committed adultery with her (or him) in their heart.”
There is a clear sexualization and objectification in the way men and women interact in our world today. From sitcom banter to the Super Bowl halftime show, from advertising to Internet pop-ups, we are taught to view each other sexually and as sexual objects for our pleasure.
Jesus warns that this won’t work. Not only should we avoid treating each other as sex objects in our actions, we shouldn’t even think of them that way.
Lastly, Jesus wants real honesty.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath,” he says. “But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’”
Honesty has also seen better days. The news we watch is often “angertainment” which carefully selects news for our particular ideological bubble to make us cheer the “good guys” we like and boo the “bad guys” we hate.
The information we read, or listen to, or watch, is often in marketing-speak that contains an ounce of truth and piles of “truthful hyperbole.” Our own presentation of our lives on social media is often carefully curated to make a sliver of the truth about us the whole truth about us.
That won’t do for Jesus. He wants us to respect others enough not to hate them or lust after them, and he wants us to respect ourselves enough to be 100% honest with others and most importantly, with ourselves.
Jesus Christ’s standard for being a disciple is real love; a love you can’t fake.
“The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God,” says St. Paul to the Corinthians today in our second reading. God knows us through and through and there is nowhere to hide.
Those who live authentically have a great gift awaiting them: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit,” says St. Paul.
Meanwhile, those who live another way are choosing a terrible fate.
“No one does God command to act unjustly, to none does God give license to sin… If you trust in God you shall live. Before you are life and death, good and evil, whichever you choose shall be given to you.”
God sets high expectations. The consequences of our actions and our choices have eternal ramifications.
How can Jesus expect so much from us? And how can the consequences of failure be so extreme? One key truth explains both: we are made in the image of God and so is everyone else we meet. To be who we truly are, we have to treat others with that much respect; and treat ourselves with the same respect that God has for us all.
Therefore, our love has to be real. Fake love ends in disaster. No wonder then, that Jesus wants you and me to be different than the world so that they might know Jesus in and through us, so that they might “trust in God and live.”
Jesus wants you and me to be radically different, to choose life, eternal life.