Often the Gospel readings each day are consoling – Jesus
healing cripples, reaching out to sinners, or welcoming children
and outcasts. Today’s reading, by contrast, is distinctly
In the way our world operates, when we do everything required of
us, we expect a pat on the back – at very least. If a student
gets all the questions right, she/he expects an “A”.
But Jesus seems to be saying “That’s not enough”.
Can that be true?
Actually “enough” is the wrong word. Jesus wants not
more, but something totally different.
Our instinct has always been “Tell me the rules”. “Tell
me what I need to do, and I will try to do it . . .” If we
follow the rules, obey the commandments, practice our religion –
then we will be saved. When we die, we will go to heaven. Right?
No, that’s backward. Jesus has already purchased our salvation.
There is nothing we can or could do to earn it. All that we need
supply is gratitude, actually a life lived as expression of that
gratitude – a life sharing that good news with those hungry
for it, a life showing, by how we live, what God’s kingdom
is really like.
This is a truth the great saints have understood and articulated
again and again. Augustine tells us: “Love and do what you
will”. St. Paul, throughout his Epistles, wages a literal
campaign against law – not because he was an anarchist, but
because he understood that rules cannot save us – no matter
how well we measure up against their demands. Law, in Paul’s
view, competes with Jesus – actually displaces Jesus. It is
through Paul’s eyes that we need to read today’s Gospel
– through Augustine’s ears that we must hear it. Doing
what is expected of us gives us no claim on God. So we have to stop
thinking in terms of meeting expectations.
We are called to a life of total self-giving. That is the model
Jesus provides; that is our nature (made in the image of God . .
.). Self-giving is the only possible response to the gift of God
in Jesus. Certainly we should generally strive to meet societal
expectations. We live in and benefit from human society, and so
we owe society a corresponding allegiance. But its norms are not
how we are saved, and sometimes – perhaps more often than
we care to admit – society makes demands and shapes our values
in ways not compatible with the Gospel.
The ultimate law is self-giving love, which has no limit –
no “enough” – except the cross.