Today’s Gospel picks up where we left off yesterday as we move through Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount; in this Gospel, it is Jesus’ first discourse or teaching. In this section, we find ourselves listening to Jesus’ repetitions of, “You have heard it said to your ancestors, but I say to you…..” Today we are invited to ponder the deeper meaning of our Yes and No. The author of Matthew places Jesus on the “mountain” as he wants the reader to make the connection between Jesus and Moses. Here though, Jesus gives the new law while Moses simply received the law from God. Therefore, Jesus is higher than Moses. The author also wants us to hear these words as if the “kingdom of heaven” (3:2; 4:17) were already here. In quoting a law on the taking of an oath from Leviticus 19:20, scholars suggest that Jesus dispenses with it as if we no longer need this law because we Christians are living in the kingdom of heaven, now. So, Jesus is inviting us to live authentically and with integrity today.
Lately, I have been reflecting on exactly that idea as my husband, Pat and I approach our 40th Wedding Anniversary. Our original Yes started a long life of Yesses. In the early days and years of our marriage, I must admit that sometimes I did not actually mean Yes, when I said, Yes. In fact, I might many times have meant No. Ah the joys of youth, how grateful I am to be in a different place where I have come to delight in saying Yes and meaning Yes! (or No!)
Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle suggested to his followers what living out the virtue of integrity looked like; integrity is not what someone does but who they are. I expect we can all resonate with this kind of thinking which Jesus first proposed on the Mount of Beatitudes. This Gospel is very timely for our contemporary society especially in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer. When we celebrate freedom for all in our just society, how well have we been doing? Is it time to open our eyes to the truth and reality of the suffering of our African American sisters and brothers? To have the courage to say, Yes, we need to hear your stories of unjust suffering. Yes, we need to strongly hold our politicians accountable to enact real change. Christ in his contemporary passion has been suffering mostly out of our sight. Jesus, the living Word of God still speaks to us. He still continues to invite us to live into the kingdom of heaven today. His Yes brought us the truth and taught us to value everyone. We believe that he died for every single life on this planet. So that “a stone of hope may rise out of the mountain of despair” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).
May we rise to this moment and fill it with our collective, Yes! In fact, the world is rising now. Once awakened to this tragedy, we must never rest until we have routed out the sin of racism in our society. Just like the prophet Elisha, in our first reading who left his old life and embraced the Yes of the new call. May we keep walking forward in hope and leave the past behind.
Today, we also celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, who was a wonderful Franciscan preacher. He, like so many who followed in his footsteps said Yes to God’s call. He also helps us locate our lost items.
How beautiful and timely is our Entrance Antiphon for today’s liturgy, “Your priests, O Lord, shall be clothed with justice; your holy ones shall ring out their joy.” (Psalm 132:9)
Together with Elisha and St. Anthony, may we embrace this day, trusting in the love of God to touch us in new ways. And may joy reign in our hearts again. 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.