More than Just the Minimum to Get By – The Beatitudes
This past Sunday the readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, included the section from Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes (Mt 5:17-37) in which Jesus makes clear that simple compliance with the Law is not the way to the profound holiness of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a troubling section of a difficult teaching – one we often dismiss as just an idea or “He didn’t really mean this literally.”
Fr. Ron Shirley, in his reflection on the Gospel, tackled the challenge of the reading directly, phrasing it as a question of respect. It bears sharing.
Not very long ago, I was having dinner at some friend’s house, and got a chance to sit next to….Billy. Billy is somewhere between one and two, probably closer to two, and has strong opinions about what he likes and what he doesn’t like. No matter if mamma is telling him in a sweet voice how nummy-nummy the mashed peas are, no matter if dad ends up eating half of the loathsome vegetables himself in order to show him how mmm-mmm good they are—if he doesn’t like them, he starts throwing. He threw the spoon, he threw the cup, he threw the bow…and finally, in an unguarded moment, he threw the Gerber’s jar and the peas…right at me.
Billy is young. He hasn’t had a chance to learn yet how to respect things. He doesn’t know that when you throw things, they sometimes get dinged or cracked or broken. He’ll learn. In fact, that is one of life’s great accomplishments…learning respect. It’s a life-long process. I remember comparing how my cousins and I used to do dishes, compared to the way my grandmother did, for instance. As teenagers we tore into those dishes as quickly as we could, they went flying. There was always at least one fatality, quite often an old cup or plate. We were a little better than Billy, but we had a way to go. Things still got dinged and cracked and broken.
And then there was Grandma. Perhaps she was like most old people. She handled the dishes slowly, with a sort of reverence. Her wrinkled old hands took hold of each platter and glass as if it were a special old friend. I don’t remember her ever breaking anything. She had learned respect. She knew how easily things can get dinged and cracked and broken. She knew how to respect food and clothes, and pencils and pens….and people.
Because if unimportant things get dinged and cracked and broken when they are not respected enough, so can people. If people are abused or roughed up or overlooked and banged around often enough…they get dinged and cracked and broken.
It isn’t enough, Jesus says, not to murder. You have to show respect to everyone. Not harbor anger against them. Not use abusive language against them or hold them in contempt.
It isn’t enough, Jesus says, to avoid the actual act of adultery with someone. What is needed, is respect for someone else and their relationship, and respect for yourself, that you don’t even entertain the thought.
It isn’t enough, Jesus says, to avoid swearing to things that are false. What is needed is so much respect for the people around you that you don’t swear at all, you just say yes when its yes and no when its no.
We Americans are just now learning how important it is to respect things instead of wasting them; respecting the environment, the rivers and streams, the soil and air, instead of abusing them.
And we need to grow in respect for ourselves and for each other. This means, not having to dominate every conversation. Not having our own way. Not inflicting our moods so freely on each other. Respect is one of the most basic types of love.
And why should we show ourselves and each other so much respect? Because God has shown complete respect to us!
1. Do I show respect to myself?
2. Is there someone close to me that I am disrespecting?