“If I were” is a subjunctive statement, meaning that “I am not”; whatever - rich, Irish, humorous. As followers of Jesus, we live in the indicative, that is, we say, “I am”. When receiving the Eucharist there are two verbal indicative statements exchanged. The person extending the Eucharist to us says, and not in a questioning tone, “The Body of Christ”. The one receiving the Holy Presence declares, and not in a questioning tone, “Amen”.
We prepare for the indicative expression of the love of God for us at the liturgy by living, and less questioning our identities and more available to receiving God’s unquestioning embrace. This week we could pray with the experiences of life which invite us to live indicatively when our more natural reactions would be, “if only”. We can prepare to receive the Eucharist as mystery by praying to be more available to the other mysteries in our days.
In our First Reading for this liturgy from Deuteronomy, we hear the voice of God through the words of Moses. What we hear is the conclusion of a chapter which begins with a strong reminder of Israel’s history of being freed from Egypt’s slavery. Before charging the people to keep all the customs and laws, God revisits how the people have been cared for by God and their keeping of the laws is how they live gratefully.
Early in Religious Life we heard the saying, “You keep the rules and the rules will keep you.” This is the theme of our First Reading. “Blessings” and “curses” sound rather harsh to us. The saying holds true here; the people of Israel will be blest as long as they live according to the “laws” which are meant to keep them safe. “Safe from what?” we ask. Israel was one nation entering a land surrounded by other nations with other gods and other ways. Moses is exhorting them to stick to their history, stick to their relationship with the God of their freedom and stick to their being one nation under God and not contaminated by contact with other nations.
There is a tone of threat in these verses and it is too easy to envision God here as anything but loving. We can relate to God out of fear ourselves, but we listen to the tone, the feeling of jealous love behind these words. God does know these people and gives them the freedom to wander, but informs them of the results of their going back into various forms of slavery.
So the saying might be reformed this way: “Keep the spirit of love behind the rule and that love will keep you safe.” “Keep away from worshiping and relating with what is false and what is true will keep you true.” Our problem, as with our Jewish ancestors is that we are not always clear and sure about what is good for us.
We will be hearing from the Gospel of Matthew during the next Sundays of Ordinary Time. Today we hear the conclusion and summary of the famous Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters have been Jesus’ teachings about what it would mean to be a student or disciple of His. It might be enjoyable to read through these chapters and underline those teachings we find difficult. For some of us the sermon would be a lot shorter.
There is a final teaching followed by a striking image for His hearers to remember. The teaching has a tone of a legal-court proceeding. The plaintiffs present their evidence of worthiness which sounds quite convincing. They say that they did this and that in His Name, didn’t they? The works seem quite in keeping with the ways of Jesus.
The judge, Jesus, pronounces that they are “evildoers” and that He never knew them. These seem harsh words and a severe judgment. He knew their self-justifying actions, but never knew their interior, them relationally, because their actions were done in their own names and they were only what their actions said they were. They were “doers”, but did their actions relying only on themselves.
The new land into which Israel was entering is similar to the new way of living as disciples of Jesus. The laws and customs God gave through Moses and the teachings of Jesus here in the Sermon on the Mount are invitations to choose life or perish.
The second section of today’s Gospel dramatically presents a similar blessing or curse option as we heard in the First Reading. All the teachings and ways of Jesus will lead to solidity, survival, expansion, life. His teachings form a firm foundation as when a person builds a house on rock. Those who choose other ways of living will eventually have their shaky footings swept away by their selfish ways of relating with life. The curse is not a judgment of God, but a prediction of what happens when humans think they know always what is good for them. If left to ourselves, we would always choose the now, the immediate, the attractive, the indulgent, and the predictable. I do suggest you go through the whole Sermon, all three chapters of Matthew’s account and just pray with those statements of Jesus that bother you. Those statements are the ones we do not think are very good for us, but extremely good for others, especially those with whom we live.
“I call upon you, God, for you will answer me; bend your ear and hear my prayer.” Ps. 17, 6
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