There is certainly some value in replaying and analyzing night dreams. Persons, names, places from long ago show up on our dream-screens for no apparent reasons. So we try to figure out the un-apparent reality within those sleep-shows.
Of equal and for me, even more value is the pondering of our day-time dreams, fantasies or imaginings. These short, and sometimes, long displays have much to tell us of our truths and real desires. It is absolutely central to God’s relating with us that we find parts of our true selves to which God’s grace of holiness tenders us. God’s love is already where we are, whether we know it, feel it, understand it, or not.
Day-dreams can give us glimpses of even embarrassing truths, but God embraces even those things within us, which make up our histories.
We might spend some time, not unprofitably, praying peacefully with what has distracted us, or tempted us, or consoled us, in our flights. These excursions are not always into unreality, but just the opposite. They can take us deeper into what is real and where God is lovingly willing to meet us and especially in the Eucharist.
The chapter from Leviticus from which our First Reading is taken centers attention upon how worship is to be lived, before the actual sacrificial activities. God is “holy” and those who will be in communion, or in close relationship with God, will live the laws and customs of the people. The precise liturgical details are important, but living justly and tenderly within the Jewish community is also detailed and necessary.
The chapter relates parts of the Ten Commandments and we hear two verses concerning relating respectfully with each other. These are familiar, because we hear them repeated in all of the first three Gospels. The first invitation to the people is that they reveal God’s holiness which God is sharing with them. In a sense, God is saying “Do as I do.” God’s holiness is displayed as loving, not bearing hatred, though there might be times for reproving. God is not vengeful, so do not take revenge nor hold grudges. Holiness is revealed through loving actions, as with God, as with the people of God.
The Gospel reading is the last ten verses of the first chapter from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. It concludes with a strange request that the followers of Jesus are to be as perfect as God is perfect. The preceding verses are tough enough to hear and to live, but this being God-Perfect is asking quite a bit of old Brother Ass. Turning the slapped cheek to receive one more, to go the extra mile of service, to offer no resistance to an evil person, these are demanding and most often, impossible. Could God be this way, Who allows sun and rain to bless the fields of our enemies? God can do these, because of God’s being perfect of course.
The first of the Ten Commandments may have been composed by God and presented by Moses to be a real downer. How does, how can a person love God with all ones soul and heart? The result could be that a person reading that first one would think that, this first one is way too much so the other nine are not worth keeping either. The thing of being perfect as God can be read in a similar way. Perfection is what God is, imperfection is what we are. Does Matthew have Jesus end this first part of the sermon with a stern depressing spiritual impossibility? We have read that we are “salt” and “light”, good things, but these are hard sayings today and how are we to hear them and take them to heart and hands?
Jesus here is not changing the Law when He says that His listeners have “heard it said” in the Law. Actually He is intensifying the dramatic nature of just how God desires us imperfect humans to act toward one another in community. The Jewish people knew themselves to be special and distinctly separate from the “pagans”. Jesus’ followers are to live more intently the spirit of the Law which, He, Jesus incarnates. In short, Jesus is telling His disciples that they are to be “light” and “salt” in as truest ways as possible. There is exaggeration and hyperbole meant to attract attention and to be remembered by these people of the oral tradition. For us, who follow Him now, we are to remember who we are and act accordingly.
Perhaps the “pagan” is the side of each of us which demands revenge, severity, quid-pro-quo exchanges and a love which is demanding and predicated on expectations surpassed.
A father told me today of taking a walk with his son recently. They passed a young homeless man asking for money. The two walked by the man, but the nine year old looked up at his dad and asked why the father had not given some money to the lad. So the father gave the son two dollars to return and give to him. Upon returning the lad asked what it meant to be homeless. When the father told him, the little fellow replied that they could have him live with them in their house.
The father said that there wasn’t any room for the man in their house. The lad noticed they were passing a large hotel. The youngster figured out that there would be lots of room in the hotel and why didn’t they fix it so the homeless man would be okay?
The father was being slapped on one cheek and had to turn the other. We all are called by this Gospel and we are beginning to feel the tension into which Jesus calls us. We all have the same good desires as the little boy. We all have felt the “pagan” side of us as well. We all would want that there be no more homeless on our streets and we all have had to keep on walking past the roomy hotels with money in our pockets. We are the imperfect trying to become more light and more salt.
“I will tell all your marvelous works. I will rejoice and be glad in you, and sing to your name, Most High.” Ps. 9, 2-3
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