Maximums / Minimums
In Mark 1:22, Jesus’ audience was astonished at his teaching, “for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes,” who could read and interpret the law, but couldn’t legislate. In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus exercising his authority. Every time he said, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors…But I say to you…” he adopted God’s position as legislator, higher than that of Moses who only received the law from God. When Jesus defined the law, just as God the Father does, he pushed for more noble and caring behavior than the earlier law required.
In the years when I was in the classroom, one of the clearest differences between students was the attitudes about “the course requirements.” So many of them were hungry for knowledge, and pursued every avenue of learning with enthusiasm. But not all of them. It was so clear that some wanted to know exactly what they needed to do to pass the course, so they could do that much and no more. “Getting by” was sufficient for them. They lacked any passion for their studies. As a professor, I responded by providing minimums that were, if anything, fairly substantial, based on my experience of what priests would need to know to preach and teach the Scriptures well. I felt it was important to challenge the minimalists to something more meaty and enthusiastic. I didn’t succeed with everyone, but I did with some, even many.
I see Jesus encouraging us, in this weekend’s Gospel, to move ourselves beyond a minimalist approach to faith and life. There were behaviors that the Hebrew Scriptures permitted, in the more violent times of the past, which Jesus no longer accepted. He took a deep look at what the Torah permitted regarding how we deal with troublesome brothers (and sisters), how permanent are our marital relationships, how to respect people other than our spouses whom we find attractive, how to speak the truth without embellishment. In each case, Jesus references the old teaching, and then corrects or amplifies it. Jesus conceives of a maximalist Kingdom of God. In essence: let’s do as much as possible to create the caring Kingdom of God. No settling for the least common denominator here.
You might consider where you are on this spectrum. Are you trying to do the least possible, just to squeak by, morally and spiritually speaking? Are you desiring to do more, but struggling to attend to all of life’s demands? Is your relationship with the Lord the guiding value of your life to which you dedicate your heart with enthusiasm?
In whatever place you find yourself, I encourage you to take the next step, to hold yourself up to a yet higher standard. Let the bright light of Jesus’ enthusiasm shine upon you, and respond with ever-greater commitment.
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