Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119, R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Gospel—Matthew 5: 20-22A, 27-28, 33-34A, 37
One of the greatest gifts our faith has given us is freedom of choice. As we were often told, God’s love is so perfect that he will never ask us to surrender this freedom, which lies at the heart of our conscience and ability to love.
The first reading from Sirach says: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” (5: 17)
This echoes the beautiful lines from Deuteronomy: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20)
This adds to our wondering about Jesus’ opening statement in today’s Gospel: “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill [the law]” (Matthew 5: 17), since he, time and again, condemned the legalistic hypocrisy of the Scribes as well as the Pharisees.
It is important to note that what scripture gives us are the principles of the law—the Ten Commandments, the first five books of the Old Testament. This is the law known to the Jews then. The philosophical underpinning of the law in scripture is knowing God’s will to which we are invited to dedicate our self in loving obedience.
This particular Gospel passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount and comes after the moving Beatitudes in Matthew, and the inspiring exhortation to be “salt of the earth and light of the world.”
Thus, Jesus declaring that he came to fulfill the law is the perfection of his loving obedience to his Father’s will. “I came to do my Father’s will,” was a constant message of Jesus, and this was expressed definitively in his loving obedience all the way to the Cross.
The freedom to choose is also what lies at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus sets before us a greater love to choose when he raises the standards of the law to “fulfillment” in his loving obedience as the Beloved Son.Greatest commandment
Jesus, toward the end of his ministry and life on earth, on the eve of fulfilling his mission, gives us the greatest commandment, the synthesis of all commandments, of all the laws. “This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 12-13)
For us to love this way requires freedom to choose. What then are the conditions necessary to develop and to allow this freedom of choice? What is the incentive or the inspiration to exercise this freedom?
We develop the freedom to choose on two levels. First is the freedom from all that hinder us to make a free choice: anxieties, traumas, fear, addiction, self-centeredness, greed and the like.
Second is the freedom to choose or dedicate our self to someone or something greater than our self; a sense of purpose and meaning, a sense of mission that is an expression of God’s will, what he wants us to do.
The freedom from and freedom to are developed through self-awareness and self-acceptance. There is no freedom without a realistic self-knowledge and—after the knowledge—a realistic self-acceptance.I add “realistic” because it is the totality of who we are, our truth, that we must be aware of and accept; our blessings, talents and virtues, as well as our woundedness, brokenness, shortcomings, vices and sinfulness.
Sense of balance
To be aware of these is half the battle won, and to accept is the beginning of healing that leads to regaining our wholeness or our reintegrating. This gives us equanimity, a sense of balance.
This equanimity becomes our platform to exercise this freedom of choice. With equanimity we gain perspective, and with it we are able to have a realistic knowledge of our world, around us and in the larger context.
What allows us to exercise the freedom to choose—now that we have a realistic knowledge of our personal context and the context of the world within which we will exercise the freedom to choose—are the virtues of hard work and discipline, to work on it in the day to day; step by step, slowly but surely progressing to make the fruits of the choice a reality.
It is the daily discipline of living out this freedom to choose that makes it a reality. This is where most of us “fail.” As Eric Ries (of “Lean Start Up” fame) points out, very few great ideas or visions for a great product or business become a reality because of the lack of discipline to do the step by step, day to day things that people often find “boring.”
This is very much the same as the annual “New Year’s Resolution” that soon—maybe in a few months, a few weeks, a few days—falls by the wayside because the grand plan fails to have the resolve to do the day-to-day hard work and discipline.
The final element in living out this freedom to choose is actually the element that made us pursue this freedom in the first place. Begin with the end in mind, the dream, the vision that inspired us at the outset to desire this freedom to choose.
The most basic choice, the fundamental option, is to live a life of mission, following what God wants us to do in order to love and to serve him and others. I like to call it the original or founding inspiration, the dreams of our youth infused with a sense of purpose, meaning and nobility.
At certain stages of our life, our journey, we revisit this original inspiration and each time the inspiration becomes clearer, more realistic, yes, but not less noble or sublime. In fact, it becomes somewhat heroic because as we grow older—hopefully, wiser and more full of grace—the choices become clearer and more concrete.
It is at this stage of the journey that our freedom to choose becomes the freedom to dedicate and to devote our life to God’s mission now more clearly expressed in following Jesus in his mission. This is the heart of the freedom to choose as a Christian, to follow Christ more nearly.
When we faithfully live out this choice, loving and serving God in all things, we too become part of Jesus’ fulfillment of the law: “Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”—CONTRIBUTED