by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, February 16, 2014:
First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
First Reading (Alt.): Sirach 15:15-20
Psalm: Psalm 119:1-8
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37
Last week's Gospel looks easy in the light of this week's Gospel. Light of the world, salt of the earth: check. We know how to do that: feed the poor, be kind to everyone we meet, clothe the ragged, make sure that the oppressed are taken care of. Not easy, to be sure, but easy compared to this week's Gospel.
This week, Jesus tells us that our inner landscape must match our outer actions. Righteous actions aren't good enough. We must work for purity of heart and brain too.
Everyone I know seems to be wrestling with the same question: how can we live a life of integrity, a life that's in synch with our values? The Gospel gives us some fairly serious instruction along these same lines, as Jesus directs us to be sure that our insides and our outsides match. Apparently our current struggles with living a life that's in balance are not new to our time.
We all know what happens if our lives get out of synch. We become hypocrites, and most of us would say we don't want that.
I could make the argument that the hypocrisy of Christians do more to hurt our Gospel mission than anything else. If you know any non-believers and you ask them why they don't believe, they won't often bring up the fact that belief in God requires a faith beyond their senses, a faith beyond what is scientifically proveable. No, most non-believers will bring up the hypocrisy of Christians, from the smaller hypocrisies, like the Christian who pretends to be a friend to your face but spreads ugly rumors about you, to the huge hypocrisies, like all the sexual predators employed by the Church through the ages. How can they believe in the God of those types of people?
And if you ask the non-churched why they don't go to church, they will almost always bring up hypocrisy. Many outsiders look at churches and wonder why they don't do more with the resources that they have. Most people know the Gospel message about caring for the poor and dispossessed. Outsiders wonder why we aren't doing more.
Of course, the secret that I only share with a few people is that quite a few Christians wrestle with these questions too. In any community, I'd guess that most churches are struggling with basic questions, like how to take care of the building and make the payroll. I'd guess that most churches in most communities, despite outward appearances, don't have the resources that the unchurched assume that they do. If we're being very honest, perhaps many members of those churches think the very same thing.
Jesus wants us to be more than surface Christians. It's easy to go to church service each week, to sing the hymns, to hug each other. It's harder to live our Christian values the rest of the week. Go back and reread all of what Jesus tells us to do, both in this Gospel and throughout the Gospel texts. Can we really live like that? We're called to forgive each other more times than we think we can. We're called to make peace with our neighbors before we head to church. We're called to give away our money to those who have less than we do. The world watches to see how we live our lives.