Károly Ferenczy: Sermon on the Mountain, Hungarian National Gallery Collection
The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, at St. William Church in Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday, February 16, 2020
What are we going to choose? Are we going to choose fire or water? Life or death? Are we going to pretend that we know what God has in store for us or are we going to admit that what lies ahead has never dawned on us? Are we going to be called least in the kingdom of heaven or are we going to be called great? Are we really going to murder a brother or sister or are we just going to kill with our abusive language? Are we going to bring a gift to the altar when we know someone is angry with us or are we going to make up before we bring it? Are we going to take someone to court or are we going to settle before we get to the court room? Are we going to use our bodies for sin, or are we going to restrain ourselves? Are we going to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye? Are we going to say yes, when we mean yes and no when we mean no, or are we going to swear to something we don’t mean at all?
Choices…it’s all about choices. Today’s Gospel helps us to realize that we play a part in all of the choices we make. It is up to us to carefully evaluate what choices help us live in right relationships with one another and with God.
Matthew’s prime concern in this reading, which comes on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount, (and is often called a sermon on the mount itself), was to compare and contrast Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah with that of the scribes…so people could choose. Matthew was talking to early Jewish converts, people who did not want to throw off the Torah so quickly. Maybe Matthew’s people were not so sure where they stood with Jesus’ message. Maybe they were people who were going to make a choice. They were just opening themselves to the Kingdom experience, so Matthew was telling his converts that Jesus was not trying to destroy their law, but to show them ways to go deeper than just the surface of the law.
That is a choice we can make, too. Do we stay on the surface or go deeper? We really write our life stories by the choices we make and every choice we make really makes us. This is difficult. Choices are difficult. Today we call making choices discernment. Someone who is trained in Jesuit spirituality will learn discernment. Discernment is being used today more and more as people make choices. Our parish leadership spent time in prayer and discernment before choices that affected the parish were made. Some of us here are on the verge of making theological choices, community choices, personal choices…hard, serious choices. Couples who present children for Baptism here at St. William are asked why they are choosing to have a child baptized. They have a choice.
Some choices we make are dangerous. Some choose to go to the border to cross into Mexico to assist those being unjustly held at our borders. Some stand on street corners to pray for an end to war or to advocate for refugees. Some choose to go to Nicaragua to support those who live in constant fear. Others offer hospitality to families fleeing from danger and war, while others stand in front of cameras and declare this parish a sanctuary. These are choices…choices that take us to a deeper level. It is more than just surface stuff. It is the deeper level Jesus calls us to.
Now, as you know, our country is already in the mode of making choices. The choices we make, as citizens, in the next few months are among the most serious choices we will ever make as a country. Let’s pray, let’s discern, let’s go to the deeper level in politics as well as in other aspects of our lives. Let’s say “yes” when we mean “yes” and “no” when we mean “no,” and let’s not say something we don’t mean at all. When we put our mark on that ballot, or pull that lever, let’s be sure we have done it with discernment, so we can be proud of our choice.
In closing, I want to share something I found the other day as I was surfing the internet: “Stop being Democrat or Republican—instead, be honest, have morals, show empathy, value integrity. Be a good human being.” Oh, and make good choices.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment.
“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”
MT 5:17-37 OR 5:20-22A, 27-28, 33-34A, 37