9th Sunday: The Foundation of Christian Life
I am certain that in every family of our parish has established a whole set of rules for their children. Bedtime, chores, where they can and can’t go, when they can be out and when they need to be home and so forth are all rules established by their parents. Why? Why do you have rules for your children? Well, some of the rules are to protect the children. You don’t want a little child running across the street. You don’t want an older child getting into a harmful situation. Some of the rules are to help the child grow and develop his or her talents. Your child’s need for proper food and enough sleep does not change in the summer. And some of the rules are to help the child develop a deeper sense of doing right and avoiding wrong.
Setting reasonable age related rules are mandatory for a happy home and a happy and well developed child, but the rules themselves are means to an end. Your main concern is that your children will grow into good Christian people. Sometimes, I come upon people who are determined in administering their family rules, but who also send the message to their children that when they go off on their own, they can do whatever they want. “Well when your 18 and living on your own, you can do what you want.” I really don’t think that parents should say this to their children. It conveys an attitude that is more concerned with obeying the rules for the sake of rules, than the reason for the rules. If children act only to keep Mom and Dad happy, then they will put themselves in bad situations when Mom and Dad are no longer determining their lives.
Today’s readings are about rules. The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the end of chapter 7 in the Gospel of Matthew. Just as Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the sacred Law from God, the disciples climbed the Mountain of the Beatitudes to receive the New Law from Jesus. And just as the people of Moses’ day were told to keep the Law always before them, Jesus tells his disciples to build their lives on His Law.
But there is a great difference between the Old Law of Moses and the New Law of Christ. Mosaic Law presented detailed instructions for the people for living their lives. Jesus’ Law went to the heart. The Sermon on the Mount began with the Beatitudes, those eight brief statements on true happiness. These were followed with the theme of living sincerely, “Let you external actions reflect your internal attitudes.” So, if we are full of love, we are not seeking to answer hatred with hatred. We are called to extend this love to our enemies, pray for them, and even turn our cheek to the person who slaps us. We are told that our prayer life should not be a show for others but an expression of our deep love for God. We are told to pray for our daily bread and to place our trust in God. Our interior union with God must determine our every action. The New Law is not a numeration of rules, it is an exposition of the basic Christian attitude.
Now the child who follows rules for the sake of rules and not why the rules exist, is liable to go wild in college when freed from his or her parents’ rules. Any person, child or adult, who is only concerned with obeying rules will never grow up to Christian maturity. The Sermon on the Mount calls us to be mature Christians. If someone needs help, we need to reach out and help. We don’t need a particular rule to tell us that if elderly Mr. Jones is sick we should check up on him to be sure he has what he needs. We don’t need rules specifying which situations demand our compassion. We don’t need rules to tell us what reflects a Christian lifestyle and what reflects a pagan lifestyle. The Christian way of life is written in our hearts. We need to love our God with our whole heart, mind and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves. The Golden Rule is active not passive. We are to do for others what we would want others to do for us.
The basic Christian attitude in life is the rock that we need to construct our lives upon. Any other attitude in life, such as taking care of number one, living for the moment, etc, are houses built on sand. Even if we were to do great things in the name of the Lord, if we do them for our own selfish needs, such as for recognition by others, our actions would be hypocritical. This is what Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel when he said, “Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, “I never knew you, depart from me you Evildoers.”
Let’s go back to our treasures, our children. The goal of the Christian parent, and, really, all of us in the Christian community who nurture our children, our goal is for the children to understand who they are and live accordingly. Our children belong to God. When teenagers or young adults makes choices based on who they and not on what others are doing, we have succeeded in leading our treasures to embrace their Christianity.
Whether we are children or adults, we Christians need to make choices based on whom we are. What happens when we don’t do this. We don’t just perform a sinful action, we tear ourselves apart from our true selves. This is really the reason why confession is so painful for adults. We can see that we are not being the persons we were created to be, and we feel torn apart, disjointed from our true selves. We are in conflict with our own true identity. This is also the reason why we feel so happy, so relieved after confession. We are one in ourselves. Our integrity is restored. So, we avoid sin, not just because a particular action breaks a particular law, but because we want to remain true to ourselves. We reach out to others who need help not just because it is a good thing to do but because we recognize the presence of the Lord in those needing help. Both these actions are the Christian way of life. They flow from whom we are.
The determination to live our lives true to our Christian identity is the rock on which we construct the building of our lives.