During my years in the classroom, it was not uncommon at exam time for students to ask, “what do I need to make on my test to keep my B or C?” In other words, students were trying to find out what was the minimum they could score on a test so as not to lose their current grade of B or C. Sure, once in a while a student would ask, “what do I need to make in order to make a B or an A?” In these cases, students wanted to score high enough to move their C to a B or their B to an A. But, most often, students wanted to score “just high enough” so as not to lose the grade they already had. These students were really not interested in doing their BEST ….. they wanted to do just enough to get by ….. to work hard enough to maintain where they were …… not necessarily to move ahead.
While I cannot imagine an Olympic athlete simply “showing up”, I do know there is within all of us a desire to do just what is enough …… just what is required. If the doctor says I should exercise 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes ……. then why should I go 5-6 times a week for 45 minutes? 3-4 times is what is recommended.
For the second week in a row, the scripture calls us to go beyond the letter of the law …. beyond the minimum. It is not enough to say that I have not killed anyone …. how am I doing with anger? It is not enough to say I do not believe in divorce …. how loving am I in fact at home? what efforts am I showing to build up a stronger family life? Just because me and my wife are “together” ….. do we really share dreams and hopes ….. do we support one another day in and day out?
I saw a religious cartoon this week where St. Peter was welcoming a newcomer to the gates of heaven. St. Peter said …… “Well yes ….. you were indeed a believer. But, why were you such a JERK?” In other words, faith really is deeper than skin …. faith and love go beyond appearance.
None of us would be satisfied with an auto mechanic who repaired our car brakes telling us, “that SHOULD hold you for a while” or an electrician who re-wired our house telling us, “I THINK this will pass inspection.” Nooooo …. we expect the mechanic, the electrician, the doctor, the plumber …. etc. to be at THEIR BEST. We do not want minimum effort … we expect top quality work … the best available.
Or, what about someone refusing us service because our religious beliefs were in conflict with their beliefs? Can I refuse SERVICE to a Muslim because I do not believe what they believe? Cannot folks see that refusal of SERVICES [hello — is Kansas listening??] …. like bakery services to a gay couple …. because of “religious differences” …. is contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ teaching? Suppose a heart surgeon refused service to someone who is a “Papist”, i.e. Catholic?
And so, Jesus is expecting us to go beyond what the pagans do ….. what the run of the mill folks do …. he wants us to pray for our enemies … to go the extra mile … THE EXTRA mile … to be nice to everyone, not just our family and friends … and those who do good for us. [Matthew 5: 38-48] To kiss the feet of the leper.
Leviticus [19: 1-2, 17-18] offers three practical ways in which we can live out the deeper call to faith:
1. Do not bear hatred for your brother or sister …. do not incur sin because of him —- while hatred is a harsh word …. we can go beyond it …. are we ticked off, peeved with — bothered by — annoyed with someone to the point of feeling it sticking in our throat? Is this feeling causing us to be less than loving —- then, there is need to make things right in our heart … to let it go … to move beyond … to no longer be stuck in the past.
2. Take no revenge — we are seeing the extremes of this in Syria, Kiev, and Venezuela as fighting is taking lives ….. but let’s make sure we are not saying things about, thinking things about, hoping for things ….. against those with whom we disagree or with whom we have differences. Just because we have not lobbed a brick or thrown a Molotov cocktail does not mean we have not taken or plotted revenge …. wish ill upon no one.
3. Cherish no grudge — let’s not laugh at the misfortune of anyone, build walls, or hold back on helping someone in need. Maybe things did not go our way, but making sure that no one is happy …. is not what we are called to be about.
Let’s not judge ourselves by the standards of the world or the measure of our neighbors. We have heard the word …. and we are called to be doers of the word. Our holiness must go beyond appearance — faith is not about showing up or showing off.
Faith is about doing good and being good. Let’s hold ourselves to the higher standard and not the lowest passing score.