The news conference had been called by the family. The bank of microphones and T.V. trucks were all in place. Reporters filled the room with anticipation. At last one of the adult sons of the convict approached the crowd to give his statement. The prior day the Federal Judge had given her ruling. The convict's wife is dying of stage IV lung cancer and she would not release her husband from federal prison to be by her bedside during her final days. The son's bitter comments at this press conference centered on his curt statement, "So this is what justice is all about?" "Is this what America has come to be that my father can not be with his dying wife?"
The convict is the former Illinois governor who is serving 6 1/2 years in a federal prison for crimes he committed while in office. He has served 3 years. It is very likely his wife will die before his time is fully served. This is a very sad case. However most of the public surveyed feel, "you do the crime, you serve the time." Or as Jesus speaks in the Gospel today: "you will be thrown into prison and will not be released until you have paid the last penny". I think many of us may take the position using today's language, "Hey cut the guy some slack." Yes at times the Gospel message from Jesus does seem severe.
One of the themes running throughout our liturgy today is the concept of freedom of choices. Whatever we choose in life will be the life we choose. The consequences of our life's choices will be ours for the rest of our life.
However Jesus is calling for radical transformation in our life and the way we make choices. Jesus is telling us that he does not expect us to be minimalists; just filling the letter of the law but to go the extra mile and go out of our way to fulfill the spirit of the law not just the minimal letter of the law. Jesus tells us today: "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven".
Jesus is urging us to move beyond the righteousness of following the letter of the law as was the custom of the day with the scribes and the Pharisees. We are to move from the mind to the heart-a very long journey for many people. We celebrate Valentines Day tomorrow. The one day of the year where we focus on the transformation of the heart and everything in our human relationships should come from the heart. The out-pouring of our life comes from the heart. It is the heart that pumps the blood to the furthest part of our body to provide life. We must move beyond the simple following of the letter of the law and have our actions come from the heart---move from being a minimalist-just getting by.
I remember growing up in the olden days---in church parlance before the Vatican II documents and changes. We were taught the most important part of Mass was the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion. If you got to church for those parts then you met the letter of the law. During Mass some would be reading a spiritual book; praying the Rosary or special Novena prayers. At the Consecration the altar server would ring a bell to let you know an important part of the Mass was coming. I also remember that I could not eat anything after midnight if I was planning on gong to communion the next day. Even after the changes of Vatican II we were told not to eat 1 hour before going to communion---So if Mass was an hour long and Communion came about half way through Mass then I could eat up to one half hour before Mass began. We were all so concerned about filling the letter of the law that many missed the forest for the trees.
Jesus uses the phraseology of, "You have heard it said, but I say to you". Jesus quotes the minimal and then challenges us to go beyond and take the extra mile. That extra mile then becomes the norm for righteousness and fulfillment. Jesus uses this language in speaking of adultery and other sexual behaviors; the area of killing and being reconciled to each other; the area of unlawful divorce; the area of giving a false oath and being untruthful. One can start with the Decalogue---the ten commandments of the Old Testament and move to the Sermon on the Mount or the Beatitudes in the New Testament.
How would all this be translated for today's issues? I am reminded of this when I see people wearing the wrist band with the letters WWJD-what would Jesus Do?
Take the phrase of Jesus and apply it to yourself in your own personal life situation whether it be at work; your role in your family; your role in your neighborhood; your role in this community. "You have heard it said but I say to you ...." I always find it a challenge to take the message of Jesus off the printed page, remove the metaphors and apply it to myself here and now.
You have heard it said that everyone is responsible for themselves and needs to work for a living. But I say to you that you are your neighbor's keeper and shall assist them when they are in need.
You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery; but I say to you whoever in the privacy of their home logs on to a pornographic web site; views the abuse of the human body; views the violence of sexual abuse commits a grave sin against human sexuality.
You have heard it said that you are to pay your taxes; but I say to you whoever cooks the books at your business location or claims charitable donations on your personal tax return which you did not make commits the sin of fraud against society.
You have heard it said you shall honor your father and your mother; but I say to you even when your parents seem confused with dementia or Alzheimer's disease do not turn them away but love them more as their need increases.
It always seems so easy to listen to the word proclaimed in the assembled community. For me trying to apply the Scripture to my life in the world I live in today's culture is at times daunting.
We each know what our life entails. Take some time this week to pause and apply the message of Jesus to yourself today in your world. "YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID.........BUT I SAY TO YOU".