Reflection & Dialogue: Can the Gospel call to perfection be lived?
In Sirach’s day the question was implicitly put: “Can we keep the commandments”, and answered categorically in the positive by that sage. Similar questions have been put with regard to the Sermon on the Mount, and indeed with regard to many tenets of Catholic moral teaching. Indeed many have complained that the teaching of part of today’s Gospel reading, from the passage “Do not kill” down to “Do not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” is impractical. In this context the words of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor are recalled, to the effect that “Jesus judged humanity too highly”, for “it was created weaker and lower than Christ thought”. With regard to this we may note that this reading, apart from the ban on divorce, is not a law code. Rather is it a presentation of the nature of the kingdom of God, of Christ’s kingdom, and of the perfection to which those within it are called. The passage clearly states that with Jesus a new age has come, and his followers are called to be witnesses to this new age in their way of life.
This view of the passage agrees with the message of today’s second reading. The gift of faith gives the believer a new wisdom, an insight into God’s plan, and in this, the wisdom of which Paul speaks differs from human wisdom. Of course, this by no means that Paul, and the Church, do not highly regard human wisdom for the conduct of human affairs. As Paul write to the Philippians (4:8): “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”. One clear message of this second reading is that we should never forget that the Church is God’s saving mystery. In dialogue with questions raised in our own day, it is good not to forget this.
Another matter discussed today is whether we can live in keeping with the Gospel message, or with the morality as taught by the Church. Christ was once addressed a similar question, to which he replied: “For God all things are possible”. This, of course, is no full answer to today’s question. There will be fuller discussion of the matter in the months and years ahead. But in any discussion of the question in relation to the Gospel and the Church, the nature of the church as divine mystery, and the need of grace must be borne in mind.