Lift Up Your Eyes
Friday: Tenth Week of the Year: June 10, 2016
Year II: 1Kings 19:9-16; Psalm 27:7-14; Matthew 5:27-32
In 1Kings 19: 9-16 Elijah is scared, discouraged, and depressed. He tells God, “The Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets… I alone am left, and they are seeking my life….” So God told him, “Go out and stand on the mountain… for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then there was a “great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains… and after the wind an earthquake…and after the earthquake a fire.” But the LORD was not in any of them. Finally there was “a sound of sheer silence.” When Elijah heard it, he “wrapped his face in his mantle.” He knew it was the LORD.
God is mystery, above and beyond any created knowledge, manifestations or power. The full answer to our human problems is ultimately inexpressible. We just need to live with that.
The Responsorial (Psalm 27) tells us the attitude we should bring to reading the Sermon on the Mount: “I long to see your face, O Lord.”
In Matthew 5: 27-32 Jesus rewrites the commandment “You shall not commit adultery,” which proclaims a value even non-religious people recognize. But Jesus takes sexual morality up to the level of God. He says that if we even look at anyone with lust we have already committed adultery on the level of the heart. Why? Because his New Law addresses our whole being, not just our actions. Those who are divine by grace must not look at anybody except as God does. We must live, think, speak and act always on the level of God.
And the stakes are higher. In Judaism sins were seen as crimes against the community and punished on this earth. So when Jesus speaks of sins being punished after death — “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out… it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” — this sounds like bad news. But the corollary of this is that a good life is rewarded forever in heaven. That is good news! The Old Testament was vague about the after life. Some Jews did not even believe in it (Luke 20:27). The New Law is a law for people who will live forever. We share the divine life of God now and are called to share it forever. That gives a new perspective to everything.
In applying this perspective to marriage, Jesus takes up a problem much on our minds today: “I say to you that anyone who divorces… causes… adultery. And whoever marries a divorced [person] commits adultery.” We tend to interpret and argue about this on the practical level of legal precisions: just what, exactly, is allowed and forbidden, and with what consequences. Necessary as this might be as a practical response to questions that arise within the Christian community, it distracts us from what Jesus is doing in the “Sermon on the Mount.” The tone, language and intent of the Sermon are not those of a legal document. In his New Law Jesus is raising our sights to the level of God’s ideals, God’s value and desires for those whom he exhorts to “Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We need to look, admire, absorb and be inspired by the ideal he holds up to us without losing ourselves in legalities.
Initiative: Give God’s life: Face your problems. But seek the answers in the face of God.