“But I say unto you…” Christ calls us to a Higher Moral Standard
There are many erroneous conceptions of Jesus floating about in the culture of today. For example, many people claim that Jesus is one among many great founders and leaders of world religions. Others claim that Jesus was a great moral leader. The problem with these claims is that Jesus did not claim to be any of these things; Jesus claimed to be God Incarnate. So, when looking at Sacred Scripture, these imposed caricatures of Jesus fall flat.
Another caricature of Jesus is even observed and embraced is the notions of what some have called “Hippie Jesus” Scripture Scholar, Dr. John Bergsma Explains:
“The ‘Hippie’ Jesus is one of the common misunderstandings of Christ that are circulating in popular culture. People think of Jesus as a laid back guru who traveled around Israel in this Volkswagen Vanagon, accompanied by twelve dudes in tie-dyed T-shirts. Jesus taught that all we need is Love, and not to be so uptight, like all those rule-bound priests and scribes.” In other words, Jesus came to stick it to “the man” because the pharisees made all these “rules” so any form of “rules” (i.e. Catholic Moral Teaching) are counter to Jesus who really just wants us to be groovy with one another.
The issue with this line of thinking is that Jesus didn’t have issues with the Pharisees for observance of a strict moral code, but rather for getting the code wrong. His issues with the Pharisees are, that they missed the heart of the law (Love of God and Love of Neighbor) and therefore interpreted the Law wrong, allowing miniscule items like ritual purity supersedes mercy and compassion. Additionally, he calls out the pharisees because they did not practice what they preached (hypocrisy). His issue with the morality of the pharisees is not the strictness of their observance of the Law, but that they got the law wrong.
For example, when the Letter of the Law says that we shall not murder. Can someone be morally upright if he goes about life not killing anyone, but kills someone’s spirit with unkind words, destroyed reputations with gossip, and assassinates someone’s character with slander? The Letter of the Law, says that we shall not worship anyone besides the Lord our God. Does this mean that someone who neglects prayer, never renders God worship, places more emphasis on money, power and pleasure than on pursuing God’s will, yet never actually erects an altar to Zeus is actually in God’s will? Of course not, the whole point of the Law of the Lord is to lead us to Love God and neighbor more, so we can be obedient to the letter.
Six times, in the fifth Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus presents us with the formula “You have heard it, said…, but I say unto you…” Then, Jesus presents us with a difficult teaching such as what we read today “Love your enemies.” This is an immensely difficult teaching and a challenge. Jesus does challenge the teaching of the Pharisees not because it was too demanding or difficult, but rather he calls us to a HIGHER moral standard, to strive to love one another with the perfect love of our Heavenly Father and knowing that we all fall short of this standard of perfection, he will offer us his very self in reparation for our own shortcomings. The standard is perfection, and we all fall short. Thank God for the grace and salvation offered us in Jesus Christ.