Free From Within
For Sunday, February 12th, 2023
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”
Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees—he invites them to be more than mere “rule followers.” Although he respects rules, more importantly, he invites us to internalize the truth of the moral rules and live this truth as our own. To remain a rule follower under fear or compulsion is not the glory of the disciple. Such a life does not flow from a love of truth and holiness. It is true that one who follows rules keeps order within the sphere of behavior. However, Christ is looking for inner freedom and integrity. In the fullness of the Christian life, lust will not become promiscuity because a man does not desire it, anger will not become violence and envy will not birth theft because these disordered desires have been deflated by one’s participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our moral behavior flows from somewhere deep within our heart and soul, not simply from a superficial rebellious streak. Our lust, our anger, and our murderous ways need to be healed from within. We need to be set free from interior influences, from desires gone astray, from unchecked and unreasoned impulsive behavior. Jesus wants us to know that our acts are ours and that part of being saved by him is becoming aware of what is within us and giving it to Christ for inner healing, as he is the Divine Physician. This type of living is part of the abundant life that Christ promises.
A man who simply follows rules does preserve public order, as no violence occurs and no theft is perpetrated, but the man who is refraining from such behavior still wants to steal and still wants illicit sexual behavior. Christ wants to set us free from within.
As one’s prayer life, worship life, and ascetical life deepen in Christ then progressively, developmentally, in time, and patiently a man undergoes a startling renewal. His desire for sin diminishes. He begins to anticipate that if he follows the promptings of sin he will end up, not in a place of fulfillment, but of boredom and meaninglessness.
With the light of Christ flooding our minds we actually begin to foresee the fruitlessness and irrationality of choosing sin. And so, by the power of being in communion with Christ, a man comes to say ‘no’ to sin. He says no not simply because such behavior is against a commandment or religious rule, but because he knows that such behavior undermines his very dignity and his communion with God. This is freedom indeed. And such freedom is attained by stopping the evil thought or desire at its first appearance in the mind. If we welcome it and think about it, desire then awakens to push us toward that which we know is evil. In the power of the Spirit, when the first thought to sin arises simply turn and ask our loving God to empty its attraction and reveal its true nature to us—a nature always at odds with our lasting happiness.
In your holy hour, today and in the coming days, ask the Lord to heal you from within so that your righteousness might surpass that of the Pharisees. Ask the Lord to free you from every inclination to sin and to orient your heart and soul toward worship of the true God, today and every day moving forward.
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