February 16, 2015
Monday of week 6 in Ordinary Time
Jesus Shows A Higher Way
I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord.
Mark doesn’t spell things out. In Mark Jesus just says, “No sign will be given.” In Matthew (16:4) he says, “No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.” Later he will say in Mark, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.” Matthew will explain (16:12), “Then they understood that he had told them to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees.”
So what is the “sign of Jonah”?
It is the Church. Originally, it was Jesus risen from the dead after three days in the grave as Jonah was three days in the fish. But a sign has to be visible, and the risen Jesus is no longer visible.
Wrong. The risen Jesus is visible today in all who are living the life of grace—the divine life of Jesus—so authentically that it is obvious Jesus has to be living in them, acting with them, in them and through them in ways that simply are not possible by human power alone.
When it is obvious that the risen Jesus is living and acting in the Church, the Church is the “sign of Jonah.”
Do we recognize him?
If all we are attuned to is the morality of the Ten Commandments, we may not. The Ten Commandments are the manufacturer’s instructions, the “operator’s manual,” for the human nature we were born with. Not to live by the Ten Commandments is to be sub-human.
Jesus’ New Law, on the other hand, summarized in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7), gives guidelines for living on the level of God. The New Law begins where the Ten Commandments leave off. To live only by the Ten Commandments is to live a sub-Christian life.
The “teaching of the Pharisees” was—among other things—that we should live by the Ten Commandments.
If all we are attuned to is the morality of the Ten Commandments, we may not notice it when people speak and act on the level of God. We may just ignore, write off as exaggeration, or subconsciously “dumb down” any expression of the mystery of Christian teaching. We may think people in church are just “going to Mass,” when, in fact, what they are doing and celebrating is impossible for anyone who does not have the divine light of faith. When the presider invites the congregation into the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” we may see that as no different than the fellowship of the Rotary Club, and think that when people treat each other as “brothers and sisters in Christ,” they are inspired by nothing more than a laudable recognition of the “brotherhood of man.” The mystical depth of the sacrament of matrimony (Jesus himself pledging lifelong fidelity in each of the spouses) may elude us.
The truth is, members of the Church often fail to be the “sign of Jonah,” because we were taught the inferior morality of the Ten Commandments instead of the New Law of Jesus. We think we are Christian if we do not steal, although Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well… Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
We think we are moral if we do not murder. But Jesus said, “Do not resist an evildoer.” Nevertheless, we go to war and kill in self-defense. And we think the laws of human society can permit us to kill someone found guilty of killing another, even if we recognize the killer as a repentant child of God.
We say, “We can’t take the Sermon on the Mount literally.” And we think that dispenses us from taking it seriously at all. We never get around to deciding how we should take it. What we do in practice is ignore what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount and live the sub-Christian morality of the Ten Commandments instead.
The risen Jesus is not visible—unambiguously, at least—in those who keep the Ten Commandments. As he himself said, “Do not even the tax collectors do the same? ...Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees [who kept the Ten Commandments to the letter], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20, 46).
But if we take seriously the teaching of the Church that by Baptism we “become Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 794), and that in everything we do he wants to act with us, in us and through us as in his own body, then, little by little the risen Jesus will become visible in what we say and do. We will be the “sign of Jonah” for the present generation.
Do I choose to let the light of Jesus shine in me, and the life of Jesus appear in everything I do?
Pray the WIT prayer all day, every day: “Jesus, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.”
Practice: Read Matthew, chapters 5 to 7, and decide on a feasible way to live by at least one thing he says there.
Discuss: How does Christian morality differ from the Ten Commandments?