Today’s Gospel continues the Sermon on the Mount theme from St. Matthew and is found immediately following the “salt of the earth” verses. Jesus reminds his audience of his purpose, he is the fulfillment of the law; not even the smallest part of a letter will pass until all has been accomplished. The last two verses seem to contain a tension on how to follow the commandments; especially for leaders in the community. I wonder if that was the struggle for Matthew’s community being made up largely of Jewish Christians? Where to from here? How do we find our way in this changing landscape of what we understood to be the law? No doubt there might have been some concerns about choosing the right way. Matthew has Jesus speak to those fears, I believe, by grounding them in the assurance that the law still counts but continues with the nuance in the verses following today’s text—”you have heard it said, but I say to you.”
It seems to me that we have a deep desire for safety and security. We don’t like change. In fact, might we treat it as a god? I know I often do. We can do our prophetic dances—like in the first reading—in denial of reality or set our sights on attaining things that are illusions, even harming ourselves along the way. Worse still, we might become the least if we lead others astray. Yet, Matthew 25:40 tells us exactly how we approach the least “as long as you did this to the least of mine, you did it to me.” We love them, we visit them, we clothe them, we feed them. We offer them the mercy of God and like Elijah the prophet, we must trust in the power of God to act through us.
One of the things I believe this text suggests is that Jesus came to show us how to live out the commandments; to make an adjustment to our lens to reflect mercy and to meet people where they are—to love them where we encounter them. Additionally, we become the greatest by living out those commandments; it’s very much a circular movement. Fundamentally, it’s about choosing the narrow road, by following the commandments we are walking towards the light and away from all that can harm us—spiritually and physically. So, let’s remember that Good News when we go astray worshiping false gods as we all do.
Creation is ongoing, the landscape of our lives must constantly be renewed, remade and restored by our encounters. Our lives must inform us, we must pay attention to the movements of God. That burning core at our center which bursts through—like molten lava—and changes everything. In accepting the least, we become the greatest. The paradox of our faith. In gratitude on this feast of St. Anthony de Padua, who was a noted preacher, a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi and a Doctor of the Church for being one of the greatest.
As the Psalm (16:11) says,
“You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.