Good morning, how are you? Oh, I’m just fine. Hoping for some good weather this week, last week was a real hassle, wasn’t it? Well, I don’t know how well the Royals are going to play this year, we’re always hoping for the best.
It’s like a ritual. We aren’t talking about anything important, just touching base, letting each other know we’re here, opening the door in case somebody wants to talk about something important, maybe. If nothing else, we’re just getting acclimated to each other. Heaven help us if somebody takes the “how are you?” question literally and starts going into too much detail. There are ways to get out of conversations easily, too: if somebody asks if you’re crazy, just agree with them. I promise you it’ll probably short circuit whatever they had to say.
Jesus wasn’t about rewriting tradition, little ritual habits, little conventions. He definitely wasn’t out to get rid of the 10 Commandments or the prophetic tradition of Judaism. The spiritual journey isn’t about making up your own rules. Part of his point is a bit crazy: if followed literally most of us would be called ‘Lefty’ and wear eyepatches. Thank goodness this is hyperbole: our right hands, right eyes or any other part of our bodies haven’t got minds of their own. The only mind we have to worry about is between our ears, and if part of our body wants to do something crazy, the motivation is there. Good thing we can’t give ourselves a lobotomy.
He wasn’t about just following the letter of the law. His examples are about the motivation for justice, the motivation for obedience. Divorce happened in Jesus’ day: a Jewish man could divorce his wife for many different reasons, including being a bad cook. It meant the woman was sent back to her family, property sent back to its original owner when the deal cancelled, and she got to start over. If she wasn’t married after that she could be in dire straits, living a life of poverty and degradation if her family couldn’t find another husband for her. There weren’t any cooking schools, either.
Staying true means not entertaining or feeding temptation. Staying moral doesn’t mean obeying the letter of the law but having a different fantasy life inside. It’s dishonest to say “I’m fine” when we’re in horrible pain on the inside. Our words have to match what’s going on inside us. Taking an oath was a public statement, and involved a lot of posing as well as legalism when the oath became inconvenient. A big wordy, flashy statement can let us have our cake and eat it, too. The simplicity of just saying what’s necessary, just saying yes or no without qualifications or demonstrations reflects a deeper integrity. Posing isn’t necessary to make an honest commitment.
We need to learn the spirit of the law as well as the letter. Without the spirit of guidance, which is a better translation of the Jewish term Torah than Law, following the rules is a hollow exercise. We can follow the rules without having an attitude of justice behind it, and that leads to all kinds of legalism and selfishness, as we can see all around us. Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, the spirit that helps us navigate God’s Law and understand how it should be followed. The spirit of the law is Mercy, as Pope Francis reminds us. Justice isn’t about following the letter of the Law, it’s about making things right. making things right for everyone.
Mercy means we don’t weaponize the truth. It’s always interesting to hear someone say, “If only the Pope (or somebody else) knew what I know..,” implying he would agree with us if he knew better. Knowledge is important, and knowing what’s going on more so, but trying to beat someone over the head with facts rarely works. I know, I’ve tried. Mercy means we look for the fear underneath and connect Christ with that fear.
Christ comes to us in the Eucharist to give us his Spirit. Christ comes to us to fill us, makes us see the spirit of mercy that accompanies justice, calls us to reach out in love rather than push away in condemnation. Condemnation is for God alone, He doesn’t need us to help Him. He needs us to help others find mercy, to find the spirit that leads us to ultimate justice, living in a world wide bond of Charity.
What’s our motivation? The most important relationship in our lives: our relationship with Jesus, which plays out in our relationships with each other. It’s about being honest and direct without being cruel or judgemental. It’s about Peace, Happiness, Joy, Purpose, Eternal Life.