No Room for Minimalism

Matthew 5:17-37

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus looks at the Old Testament commandments and tells us that a new day has come.

This is not the Jesus many of us prefer to think about; this is the calls-a-spade-a-spade Jesus, the One who reminds us that being a Christian involves more than an hour on Sundays. To be Christian is to be transformed but we must cooperate in that transformation.

In short, Jesus points to various acts that are acceptable in society but which, He says, violate the Ten Commandments. Does a man who is absorbed with pornography commit adultery, even if he never leaves his home? Does a hate-filled gossip who never raises her hand against anyone sin against the fifth commandment? To the faithful disciple of Christ, the answers are obvious.

I recall one of my sons was not too scholarly when he was young. If a pass was 60 and he got 65, he figured he’d put in a bit too much effort. (Fortunately, he grew out of that!) Unfortunately, too many people have a similar attitude when it comes to sin. How close can they walk to the edge of the cliff without falling over? They want to be good enough to escape the fires of hell but not so good that they miss out on all the fun. As we see in the Gospel, that is not a new sentiment, but it is incompatible with being a Christian. There is no room for minimalism in Christianity.

Jesus says we would be better to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye than to engage in sin. He is not recommending that we maim ourselves, but is stressing the gravity of sin. He is telling us to take it seriously and not to be too quick to dismiss its significance. We have all excused “little white lies” or justified harsh words said in anger, but it is folly to do so. Yes, we all have moments of weakness and even times when we jump right in and do something we know is wrong.

The beauty of our Catholic faith is that there is a remedy for us when we drop the ball. The sacrament of Reconciliation invites us to acknowledge our failings and commit anew to living in true Christian discipleship. Through confession and absolution, we receive God’s forgiveness and grace to help us in our resolve. Especially with Lent on the horizon, we should make an effort to return to this sacrament and renew our commitment to live as Christ intends.

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