The trouble with modern bureaucracies is the abundance of laws and regulations. The grand total of laws and directives emanating from the EU amounts to something like 135,000. That’s oppressive and little wonder then if we find all these rules off-putting. However, Jesus’ take on the Law is both different and refreshing. Paul gives us the background. He speaks about the hidden wisdom of our God which was kept secret from ages past but now is revealed with the coming of Jesus. That wisdom is none other than God’s loving designs for each of us. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Thus, when Jesus is addressing the multitude in today’s gospel, he is looking at the bigger picture. Yes, he sees a motley crowd of impoverished people who struggle to eke out a living. But he also sees what they can become thanks to God’s loving plan for them. It is in this light that he talks of God’s commandments for them, commandments that, according to Sirach, are life-giving and enhancing.
It would be a mistake to think of these commandments as a series of little pieces: a rule on this, a rule on that, a bit of theology on some other point. This ‘chop-up into sentences’ approach smacks too much of fundamentalism. The central point is that the message of the gospel is greater than the sum of its parts. It is not a new rule about this, a change in the rules about something else, and so forth; rather, the message is that God’s love is greater than all, and we are called to respond to that love in a complete loving way, not simply by mere external rules.
Love and faith are more than ‘ticking the boxes.’ We can keep all the rules, but if our lives have not got that spark of love and laughter, then we are not following the God of love but the ‘great policeman in the sky’. That sparkle of love is what makes the difference between the saint and the intense rule-keeping legalist. That sparkle is the ability to see beyond the rules, to glimpse a mystery that is greater than the universe, to glimpse the love of God beckoning us.
Sadly, today, there’s a growing tendency in our society to speak in ways that express aggression. More and more we see offensive insults cast about just to humiliate, look down on and wound. Political campaigns of late have taken this to a new level where it’s all about downing the opposition in order to win and it’s a matter of winning at all costs. But for every winner there are many losers who are passed over and forgotten.
Jesus rejects this attitude out of hand by asking us to go deeper. Thus, it’s not enough to fulfill the law that orders: ‘Don’t kill’. It’s also necessary to root out of our lives aggression, looking down on others, insults or revenge simply because they don’t belong to a peace-loving community. In Jesus’ vision, there is no ‘them and us’. Nor is it about climbing social ladders to the top of the heap. The better image is a circle where we are all equal and appreciate each other as images of a loving God.
With Valentine’s day on the horizon you could say love is in air. It’s probably more to do with romantic love which certainly has its place. But the love Jesus is asking us to take on is, in the words of John’s Epistle, not our love for God, but God’s love for us. If we only could allow God to love us, then our hearts will spontaneously do the right thing. This is what St. Augustine means when he says, ‘love and do what you will’. St. Paul puts down the great expansion in the early church to the fact that God’s love was poured into their hearts. God’s love is forever seeking to enter our hearts also, if only we could allow it. Unfortunately, that’s the tricky bit. With all the knocks and setbacks that we get, we are often blinded to God loving us beyond measure.
‘Colour Purple’ is a film set in the deep South of the US. The main character, Celie, was put down and oppressed and made to feel useless all her life. When only twelve or thirteen she was repeatedly raped by her father. Then she was sold off to another man twice her age and forced to rear his children. Small wonder then that she felt worthless and unloved. But then a ray of sunshine came into her life. She met and was fascinated by Shug Avery who not only was a big hit on the stage with her voice but seemed to be everything that Celie lacked. To Celie’s amazement, Shug took an interest in her and loved her. She couldn’t believe it at first that anyone would take an interest in her! That love transformed Celie and she began to blossom like a flower. One day Shug gave her views on religion. “Us worry about God a lot. But once us feel loved by God us does the best one can to please him with what us like.”
That sums up today’s gospel. Like Celie, we all have our share of negativity. People talk about the power of positive thinking. There is also a power to negative thinking but it is a dark power. It turns us in on ourselves, leaves us with a poor self-image and blinds us to God’s love reaching out to us. But if we can only open the shutters that little bit, then God’s love will seep in and once we feel loved by God we will spontaneously want to do everything to please God in return. It’s no longer a matter of the bare minimum. It’s about being proactive, going for broke like St. Francis of Assisi and wanting to be a channel of love for others.
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
And where there is doubt true faith in You.
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul
Sunday, 12 February 2017