Exceeding the Limits of Justice
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Matthew 5:38-39
At the time of the Old Testament, the introduction of the concept of “an eye for an eye” was seen as great progress in regard to civil peace. This is because it was very common for vengeance to take the form of going beyond the crime committed. For example, if one family stole an animal, the victim’s family may have retaliated by killing the whole flock of the family who did the stealing. This only led to constant fighting and unrest among tribes and communities.
Therefore, when this law was introduced within the law of Israel, it brought a certain peace. Justice could be served, but once equal justice was dealt, the vengeance had to be considered over.
But Jesus comes along and takes this practice to a whole new level. He takes the idea of “strict justice” and transforms it into mercy and forgiveness. By stating, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well,” Jesus is introducing the new concept of forgiveness rather than equal justice.
Does He literally mean that we should turn and offer the other cheek? Well, that is what He said so it makes sense to accept this teaching on face value. But we’d miss the point if we got caught up in the question of this one action. What Jesus is truly trying to get across is that mercy and forgiveness must become the new law that governs our lives.
So what if someone steals from you? Ought you demand that they pay you back? Though you may have a legal right to do so, it may be even better to confront that person, in love, and let them know they are forgiven. Yes, that may be hard, but it is the mercy and forgiveness of which Jesus is speaking.
Mercy and forgiveness can, at times, appear to be contrary to justice and common sense. But it’s not. It’s a higher law calling us to a much greater level of true justice. This law can only be understood when we see the sacredness and dignity of every person, including the sinner and the criminal. We should not allow them to continue their criminal behavior, but we do administer the highest justice of God when we forgive and offer mercy.
Reflect, today, upon this very challenging thought. God’s justice is, first and foremost, accomplished by His mercy. If you can understand that and live it, you will see great things happen in your life and in the lives of those you forgive.
Lord, help me to forgive. Help me to offer mercy as a remedy for the injustice I face in life. May I heed Your words and follow the perfect example You set while on the Cross when You prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Help me, Lord, to imitate Your love and forgiveness. Jesus, I trust in You.
Creativity in Sharing the Gospel
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. Mark 2:4
Now that was certainly creative! There are a few things we can take from this passage that are abundantly clear.
First, the man who was paralyzed, lying on the mat, was clearly loved. He had a group of people, probably family and others, who loved him enough to go to great lengths to have him enter into the presence of Jesus. Again, this is love.
Second, those who loved this man knew that he needed Jesus. They knew, by a gift of faith, that bringing this man into the presence of Jesus was what he needed. So that’s what they did.
Third, the way they did it was quite creative. They opened up the roof and lowered him down. Though this must have caused quite a scene, and though the owner of the house most likely did not approve, their zeal and love led them to this creative effort.
This reveals to us the love, passion and creativity that we need in sharing the Gospel. The goal in sharing the Gospel must be to bring others into the presence of Jesus. In order to do this well, we need the same qualities found in this story. We need an unwavering love for those in need, those who are lost, those who need the healing hand of Jesus. Without that unwavering love, we will certainly not make the necessary effort.
When we love another with a Christian love, our love will inspire us to point them to Jesus. It’s as simple as that.
Finally, our unwavering desire to bring others to Jesus will also lead us to be creative in how we accomplish this task. It’s not always easy to evangelize. There is not always a clear cut way on how we do this. So, how do you best bring your spouse, your child, your neighbor or friend to encounter the love of Christ. Be open to many possibilities and let the Lord inspire you. He always has a perfect way, if you only let Him show you.
Reflect, today, upon this scene of the man being let down on a mat before Jesus. Know that this is an example for you in your call to spread the Gospel. Let God speak to you through it and let Him use you to bring others to Himself.
Lord, I give myself to You for the purpose of spreading Your Gospel. Please use me to bring others to You so that they may encounter Your healing touch. May I be filled with love for those who are hurting and in need, and may that love inspire me to go to any length to be an instrument of Your divine mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Forgiving All the Way
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37
Do you judge others? Judging another is an easy thing to do. Sometimes we can meet a person and immediately arrive at some form of judgment. Perhaps they are not as friendly as we think they should be at first and, as a result, we offer a judgment of them right away. Of course this can happen at times, even before we meet the person. Or, it can also happen in relationships that we’ve had for a long time.
Do you condemn others? Condemnation comes in two forms. First, either we have formed a false judgment of another and this results in a false condemnation. Second, we can judge a situation correctly, that this person is guilty of some sin, and we act as though we have a right to condemn. We act as if we have a right to issue a sentence upon them.
Both judging and condemning are far from Christian virtues. They are not healthy or holy in any way. So, the way they are overcome is through mercy and forgiveness.
Do you forgive? Forgiveness is hard to do most of the time. It must be offered in the light of our tendencies to both judge and condemn another. First of all, forgiveness cures the tendency to condemn because it acknowledges a fault and forgives it anyway without requiring the imposition of a “punishment,” so to speak, upon the offender. Forgiveness does not mean that the offense was OK or nonexistent. On the contrary, forgiveness in this case clearly sees a sin for what it is. But once acknowledged, it forgives that sin. This is very important when it comes to forgiving in a close relationship. It’s never healthy to pretend that some hurt or sin never happened, but it’s always healthy to forgive the sin that is present.
When it comes to judgment, forgiveness goes even further than forgiving a sin. Forgiveness must also move us to a point where we do not even form a judgment as to another’s fault. We suspend judgment. This is especially seen in the statement of Jesus on the Cross when He said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” He didn’t even allow Himself to arrive at the judgment of those who were condemning Him to death. He did not hold anything against them and presumed the best in regard to their intentions. “They know not what they do.” This requires a great depth of love and mercy.
Reflect, today, upon your own ability to forgive completely. Start by letting go of the condemnation of another’s sin. Then try to let our Lord bring you one step closer to His perfect merciful heart by letting go even of judgment. Let God be the judge. For your part, seek only to forgive.
Lord, help me to forgive all who have offended me and all with whom I am angry. Free me from the burdens of condemnation and judgment and replace these tendencies with Your merciful heart. May I imitate Your perfect forgiveness in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Help My Unbelief!
Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Mark 9:22-24
This Scripture passage comes in the middle of a somewhat intense scene in which people were arguing about Jesus with the scribes. When Jesus inquired about the argument, a man came forward and asked Jesus to heal his son who had been possessed by a demon since birth. The man also adds to his request, “If you can!” Jesus appears to react with a rebuke for his lack of faith. He says, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”
It’s important to note that the father came to Jesus in a somewhat desperate state of mind. It is good that he came to Jesus, but ideally he would come to Jesus regardless of his desperation. This teaches us a lesson regarding how we often come to our Lord.
Very often, when life is good, we allow our faith and trust in God to slip. It’s easy, when things are good, to forget that God is God and that we must daily love Him and surrender all to Him, trusting Him even with the good things of life. Conversely, when a sudden hardship comes our way, we suddenly turn to God in our need. We come to Him as we would a doctor when we become sick. We avoid going to the doctor when we are healthy, waiting until we are in dire need.
Even though it is a good thing to turn to Jesus in our need, when things are suddenly out of control, it is far better to come to Him when life is good and when we do not have any immediate hardship. The fact that this man came to Jesus out of pure desperation, and the fact that he wasn’t even convinced that Jesus could do anything to help, reveals a lack of faith on his part. So it is with us. When we wait until we are in the midst of some crisis to come to our Lord, hoping but unsure of His ability to intervene, we are manifesting a certain lack of faith.
But the good news is that Jesus worked with the little faith this man had and He will do the same with us. He cured his son and He will cure us when we come to Him with even a little faith. But the ideal is to then make sure that the little faith we have manifested grows. It must grow so that we then come to Jesus every day, even when there is no obvious crisis or imminent need. Coming to Him, out of love, is a true sign of a deep and authentic faith.
Reflect, today, upon the motivation you have in coming to Jesus. Yes, come to Him when things are not well, but reflect upon the essential truth of faith that you must make it your daily habit to come to Him in all things as a result of the deep and unwavering faith you have and the love you have for Him. This form of faith will bring joy to the heart of our Lord and will transform you so that a good life will be even better.
Lord, may I come to You in all things. May I love and serve You when life is good, and may I trust You with an unwavering trust when life is challenging. Increase my faith and help me to manifest that faith every day of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Good Guilt, Bad Guilt
Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Mark 9:33-34
The Apostles “remained silent” because they were immediately filled with feelings of guilt. They were having a foolish argument about who was the greatest among them and when Jesus asked them what they were discussing, they were ashamed to admit it. They knew their conversation was foolishness. Jesus goes on to offer the beautiful teaching on true humility. But let’s take a look at the lesson we learn from the Apostles’ experience of guilt.
Is guilt a bad thing? Is it undesirable to feel guilt? Is “Catholic guilt” the result of overly oppressive moral teachings? Sadly, in our world today it seems that most forms of guilt are slowly dissipating and many people are becoming more obstinate in their violations of God’s law with a “guilt free” conscience. But the truth is that guilt is often a good thing! It’s good when the guilt you feel is a result of a clear understanding of your moral failure. Guilt, in this case, is a sign that your conscience is working.
Of course there are those who are scrupulous and feel excessive guilt when they should feel only a little. Or they feel guilt as a result of a confused conscience rather than as the result of a sin they have committed. This is not healthy and must be remedied. However, in our day and age, a lack of healthy guilt is often the more common problem.
Perhaps the lesson we should take from this encounter Jesus had with His Apostles is that it is good and healthy to experience guilt in our lives when it is clear that we have done something wrong. And it is good and healthy to be attentive to this guilt as an invitation to change our ways.
After Jesus gently reproved the Apostles, He then gently taught them the meaning of true greatness. This is also the approach He will take with us when we humbly experience guilt for our sins.
Reflect, today, upon how well your conscience works. Is it, at times, overly scrupulous? Is it unscrupulous, tending to the opposite extreme of failing to see sin for what it is. Or are you blessed with a balanced, good and healthy conscience that does experience appropriate guilt as needed so as to guide you when you go astray? Seek this middle way of a virtuous conscience and allow our Lord to be your daily guide.
Lord, I offer to You my conscience. I know that my conscience is a sanctuary, a holy place, where I am called to meet You and hear Your voice. May my conscience always be open to the full truth of Your Gospel so that I may be guided by You each and every day. Jesus, I trust in You.
Rejoicing in the Good Works of Others
Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.” Mark 9:38-39
This passage offers us a lesson in jealousy or what we may call “exclusivism.” John and the other Apostles witness someone with whom they were not familiar, doing the very good deed of driving out a demon in Jesus’ name. It’s a somewhat strange image to imagine. John sees this good act and tries to interfere by asking the person to stop. Then he goes and tells on this man to Jesus, hoping Jesus will intervene. But Jesus does the opposite.
In some ways, this story is similar to a child who tattles on a sibling. Say that one sibling does something that is permitted by the parent, but another sibling is jealous of it. The result is that the jealous sibling tattles for a silly reason.
“Exclusivism” can be defined as a tendency to think that something is good only when I do it. It’s a form of spiritual greed in which we have a hard time rejoicing in and supporting the good deeds of another. This is a dangerous but all too common struggle for many.
The ideal, in our Christian life, is to look for the works of God everywhere and within everyone. We should so deeply desire that the Kingdom of God be built up that we are overjoyed whenever we witness such activity. If, on the other hand, we find ourselves jealous of another for the good that they do, or if we find ourselves trying to find fault with what they are doing, then we should be aware of this tendency and claim it as our sin, not theirs.
Reflect, today, upon your own reaction toward the goodness of others. Are you able to rejoice in that goodness? Or does it leave you with a certain jealousy or envy? If the latter, then commit yourself to the goal of being freed from these temptations. Our divine Lord desires that you participate in His good works. You should seek to have that same desire.
Lord, when I am jealous of others, especially when I am jealous of their good works, help me to see this as my sin. Help me instead to look for the many wonderful ways that You are at work in our world, and help me to rejoice in all that You do through others. Jesus, I trust in You.
Salted With Fire
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
“Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.” Mark 9:49-50
Are you ready to be “salted with fire?” Jesus makes it clear that everyone will go through this “salting.” So what does this actually mean?
Adding salt to food brings forth the flavor. It doesn’t so much change the food into something else; rather, it enhances what is there, adding more to the taste.
Salt also has the effect of purifying. It’s used as a preservative and helps to rid food of bacteria. Both of these images of flavoring and preserving are worth looking at.
Being “salted with fire” means that we are purified by God. Fire purifies and refines. Heat is used to sanitize utensils, fire is used to purify gold, and it is also used to mold precious metals into images or jewelry.
So it is with us. We must be purified by the fire of God in every way. Sin must be purged and we must become malleable by the fire of God so that we can be molded into His divine image.
But how does this happen? One way is when we are purged of all fleshly desires and appetites that are selfish and opposed to the will of God. This can be painful and, hence, the image of fire. Another way is when we are purified on the deeper level of the spirit. This may happen when we are given some heavy cross to carry and we do so with patience and acceptance. When our will is challenged and tested, we have an opportunity to turn our own will over to God and to choose His will. But His will often times includes a full embrace of any suffering we endure. In that case, suffering can have the effect of purifying us on the deepest level of our will and, thus, suffering becomes redemptive for us.
Reflect, today, upon the purifying action of God in your life. Reflect, especially, upon any ways that you feel the pain of some suffering that you do not want to embrace. Know that a full embrace of this suffering may actually produce the purification God wants in your life so as to make you truly holy and pure.
Lord, I pray that You purify my soul of all sin. Help me, first, to be freed of all fleshly attachments that interfere with my love of You. Help me, also, to be free of my own will. May the sufferings and cross in my life become a true grace through which You free me and help me to grow strong in patience and all virtue. I give myself to You, dear Lord. Jesus, I trust in You.
Seeking the Truth
Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
The Pharisees approached [Jesus] and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. Mark 10:2
They were testing Him! The Pharisees were constantly trying to trap Jesus. Though this is a sad fact, it does teach us a lesson about seeking the truth.
One of the most basic goals we must strive for in life is to seek the truth. We must seek to know the truth, and then allow that truth to set us free. On one level, the Pharisees were seeking the truth. They asked Jesus a question about the Law of Moses and His interpretation of that law. Though it is good to ask such a question and to seek an answer from Jesus, there is a subtle distinction that we must make.
The distinction has to do with the motive of the asker. In this case, the Pharisees were asking Jesus a question not because they were seeking the truth; rather, they were asking it with the intention of trickery and manipulation. They were looking for anything they could to try to trap Jesus so as to condemn Him. The much better way to ask Jesus a question is to come to Him for two reasons.
First, we must come to Him asking questions because we humbly believe that He is the source of all Truth. This takes humility because it requires that we acknowledge that Jesus knows better. He has the answer, a better answer than we have.
Secondly, when we ask Jesus a question, we should examine our motivation. Hopefully, our motivation consists in the single fact that we want to know. We have come to believe that He is the source of truth and, therefore, we turn to Him so that we will understand. So, not only do we humbly believe He has the answers, we also sincerely want to know them. This form of an inquisitive and open heart disposes us to receive all that He says to us, as if we were dry land ready to soak up a gentle rain.
Reflect, today, upon whether you regularly put all your questions in life before our Lord. If you do, examine your motivation. Strive to have a humble heart that desires to receive the pure truth from the source who is Truth Himself.
Lord, I turn to You as the source of all Truth. Teach me Your ways and fill me with Your wisdom. Help me to understand life as You see it and, in that understanding, help me to embrace Your holy will. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Need for Healthy Human Affection
Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them. Mark 10:14-16
Jesus used the example of children to explain the way that we must accept the Kingdom of God. We must accept it as a child would. Not with skepticism or doubt, but with openness, joy and simplicity. But this passage above also reveals another subtle truth. It reveals the natural and healthy affection we must have for others.
The world we live in today tends more and more toward debauchery and misguided human desire. Lusts tend to dominate our culture in such a way that it almost seems normal to see another as an object of desire. This is most clearly seen in advertisements and in Hollywood. Sexual sins are rampant and affect many people to such a degree that they are bound by them, not being able to break free.
One sad result of this is that there appears to be a loss of healthy human affection. In an overly sexualized culture we can easily begin to see everything through that lens whether we realize it or not. As a result, an understanding of healthy human affection is lost.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.” It goes on, “Then he embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them.” These passages reveal to us the holy, natural and healthy affection that Jesus had for these children and for all of us. However, it was not only children who came to Him. It was also the woman caught in adultery who clung to His feet and it was John the Apostle who reclined against Him at the Last Supper.
Human affection must be purified and redeemed in such a way that it is offered to others without selfish motives and, most certainly, without disordered sexual desires. When this can be done, just as Jesus did it, the embrace of a parent to a child, a friend with another, a spouse to the other spouse, etc., becomes a holy and natural expression of the love in the heart of Christ.
Reflect, today, upon the goodness of healthy human affection. But reflect, also, upon the fact that our culture is saturated with much impurity causing confusion about this natural exchange of love. Pray for the continued gift of holy purity of heart so that our Lord will invite many to Himself through your heart and affections.
Lord, help me to be pure of heart. Help me to allow You to purify all my affections so that You will shine through. Free me of the selfish temptations of the culture we live in and give me instead a selfless expression of Your love. Jesus, I trust in You.
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