Friday of the First Week of Lent
(Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-28)
Perhaps because most Catholic adults were once Catholic teenagers, they have become minimalists. Teenagers wonder what is the least that they have to do to get to heaven. They will ask a youth minister, for example, how long one might kiss his girlfriend or her boyfriend before committing a sin against chastity. Or they may ask in Confession how many beers one can drink before committing the sin of drunkenness. This type of inquiry is more characteristic of the scribes and the Pharisees, whom Jesus discredits in today’s gospel, than of his true disciples. His followers are to be perfect; that is, they are to forego not only murder but also angry ridicule; they are to avoid not only adultery but also its fountainhead -- lustful thoughts.
Although it sounds neurotic in our therapeutic age, the quest for perfection is not intended to be a compulsive exercise. We have the Holy Spirit to gently point the way and to take up slack. Also, as the gospel today shows, falling short in the process is tolerable. But when we fail, we need to ask forgiveness and then resume the effort. Doing so, in fact, means that we are making progress toward the goal. Interestingly, Jesus indicates that seeking God’s forgiveness after we have offended another is not enough, whether or not we do so in sacramental confession. No, first we must reconcile with the people we have hurt; then we bring our sin offering to God.