In watching sports these days, such as the NBA All-Star game, the Super Bowl or any of the recent golf tournaments I have to notice that the players today are better, more skilled and better athletes than the players were when I was growing up and learning the games. There is a drive within human persons to be better and to reach greater heights of accomplishment than those who have gone before. I think that it is part of our calling as human beings.
In order to be better and to surpass the limits of the past, we need to aim higher and be willing to go the extra mile. In matters of moral and spiritual living, I believe that Jesus came among us to make us better persons. He set the bar higher, morally and spiritually for all human persons. In his Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is the law-giver who has come among us to raise up the standards of moral and spiritual behavior. He did not come to abolish the law but rather, to fulfill it. In fulfilling the law, Jesus takes us into new territory of human perfection. He begins his teaching with “You have heard that it was said…” and then he surpasses what we had heard in the past and challenges us to aim higher and to go the extra distance when he says, “But I say to you…”
When Jesus was first calling his disciples to follow him, he challenged them to: “Put out into deeper waters.” In seeing the results of that catch, Peter fell at the feet of Jesus and confessed his sinfulness. To Peter, a seasoned fisherman, the challenge to be better and to achieve greater things such as being, “fishers of men” seemed beyond possibility for him. Jesus knows that we are capable of being better, doing better and rising above the limitations that we have imposed upon ourselves. Already when Jesus comes into the world, the world becomes a better place, capable of much greater things. Jesus calls us all to greater things and to make the world a better place as we pass through it.
When God first revealed himself to the people of Israel, he called them to be a better people than the people around them. As we hear in the Code of Holiness in Leviticus: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” (Lev 19,1) At that time, God dwelt in a cloud of mystery among the people. He was with them but he was also apart from them. From the mountain God called his people to a new standard of love: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Lev 19,18) Because the Lord dwelt in their midst, the people were called to show love to one another and to take no revenge or carry no grudge among themselves.
Through the teaching of Jesus and the new Covenant in his blood, the Church was called to an even greater holiness. Through the Spirit of Jesus, God now took up his dwelling place within the hearts of the Christian people. St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?…the temple of God, which you are, is holy…all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.” (1Cor 3,16-23) The law of God, a law of love, is no longer written on stone tablets, but now it is written on the hearts and minds of the Christian people. Jesus instructs his disciples at the Last Supper: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (Jn 13,34) Now we must learn to love as Jesus loves. We are called to have the mind and the heart of Jesus. St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” (1Cor 2,14ff) Every day we must “put on Christ” (Gal 3,27) and aim higher and go the extra mile in love.
God is love, he is always love, and we must live in love as we live in God. The Father bestows his benevolent goodness on all people as he “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Mt 5,45) Just so, our love must not just be limited to “our people” but must extend to all people of the earth. We cannot limit our love to only those whom we “feel” love for or who we think deserve it. As “children of your heavenly Father” we must allow God’s love to dwell within us and to love with his great love. We must, “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5,48) We must strive to be love. Better!