Meer is in U!
Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) | Fr Robert Eccles teases out the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and he considers the charge that it is impractical or unrealistic.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists that we can do more than the ordinary. We used to be told that “thou shalt not kill” was quite strict enough. No, because not to kill people is really not enough, it does not give them life. If I have resentment in my heart for Mary Ann, if I think she is a blockhead to get that tattoo, say, I may succeed in being reasonably decent and polite to her, I shall not give her life. If I am at Mass with the family and suddenly realise there’s a debt of love and honour to pay, I never sent flowers or paid the baby sitter or remembered Mum’s birthday, of course I must skip the collection and dash outside and make that phone call. Go and be reconciled and then come back to offer my gift at the altar.
The Lord always says, do a bit more, be bigger than you thought you were. Those people he was talking to had to put up with an occupying army everywhere. A Roman soldier assumed the right to make you hump his heavy pack for a mile. That was a backbreaking imposition. Now suppose you insisted on going the extra mile? – that would take the wind out of his sails!
A squaddie might well bash you in the face. Suppose you stuck out your face to ask for more of the same? The first time he did it brutally, without thinking. But only once because this time he’s got to look at you and do it in cold blood, deliberately, to another human being with a mind of his own; a personality, then. Your non-violence has opened for him a way to act like a decent human being himself. This action says, Christ has won the victory over the way of violence, can’t you see?
This isn’t a morality for doormats! It’s a morality for people who won’t be stepped on! It is possible because of what was done for us on Good Friday when the powers of violence were broken for good.
So is the Sermon on the Mount really impractical and unrealistic? Perhaps it’s just for deacons. Or for the Sisters. Or the Girl Guides? “If you wish, you can keep the commandments. To behave faithfully is within your power.” So the Old Testament said, and Jesus did not come to abolish that but to fulfil it. An old Flemish family from Bruges had a motto to their coat of arms, reading Meer is in U. There’s more to you than you think there is, it says. The Lord invites always to go further. Meer is in U! – not, Do Just the Least Needed To Get By. Think of me and my rival going to fight it out in court (just as popular a pastime then as now), suppose on the way I look at him again, and see he is no enemy but a brother, and invite him to a fish supper at the Lamb and Flag and make friends?
The need of a fellow human being to live and flourish is always the golden standard, it’s not possible to tell the exact amount we owe this person to be quit of him. People will ask to know the rules so they can do their duty! The incitement of the Sermon on the Mount is always to do more, because there is always more to you than you think. Mother Teresa and Franz Jägerstätter knew that. When we are struggling with the difficult issues the Holy Father writes about in his wonderful letters, aren’t we concerned above all to take Jesus at his word and attempt the adventure of living generously towards God and our neighbour, following in his Way, for whom there was no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends?
The Christian community on the ground, our parish, our circle, our family, is the school where we can learn mutual compassion and understanding, where we try to practice a little tenderness to one another. Now St Thomas Aquinas has some golden pages on the virtue of prudence. My teacher Herbert McCabe said, prudence is just good sense. Think carefully about your decisions; pray to know the loving thing to do; in the end, trust in the Lord. We learn the virtues by doing virtuous things. You too have the Holy Spirit and can see for yourselves what is right, said our Lord. So don’t be surprised to find the Sermon on the Mount works for you. Meer is in U!
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a 16th-century Dutch painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.