It can sometimes be difficult to connect the faith that we profess to believe and the way we live out that faith on a daily basis.
At the heart of the Gospel message is the insistence of Jesus that our love be "inclusive" - all-inclusive, with no exception. And that is probably the most difficult thing about being a Christian. Almost naturally, instinctively, our love and our concern tend to be exclusive. We are comfortable with people who are like us, in color, religion, and economic status. We find it easy to be good to those who like us, those who are attentive to us, those who understand us.
Maybe that's why Matthew spends so much time with his account of the Sermon on the Mount. Unlike the other synoptic Gospels, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is very long. It begins when Jesus sits down on top of the mountain in Chapter 5 and ends when he goes back down the mountain in Chapter 8. It is 105 verses long and provides the guidelines for good citizenship. It is the blueprint that the early Christians produced for the instruction of future followers - an "instruction manual" which integrates daily life with serving God. And that's where things get a little tricky... a bit disjointed.
How do we reconcile the theology of the Church with the teachings of Jesus? What is the difference between the Catechism of the Church and the Gospel teachings of Jesus? What is the relationship between our ritual and our lives outside of the church building? Or the difference between church leadership structures and church members?
In Matthew, we hear the tone of Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven. It is not a list of laws or rules to be followed, but a presentation of the defining character of the messianic community, the attitudes required of and the benefits for its citizens.
Beneath the words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing the concept of power and what can happen when that power is misused. The problem with an elite system of power - the problem with being in charge - is that one can get very used to it. Before long, one can actually start to believe, with all one's heart, that he/she is in charge of everything, of everyone. And that is a dangerous place for a person to be.
Jesus was an ordinary Jewish layman who abandoned his livelihood and hometown - who voluntarily became jobless and homeless. He became the uninvited houseguest who always relied on the kindness of strangers, and who undertook a prophetic ministry within a world where a privileged aristocracy controlled the Temple, its liturgy, its priesthood, its jobs, its markets, its income and its ideologies. And this was a ticket to certain failure in a world where those who "have" get more, and those who "have not" get had. What is even more unbelievable is that Jesus willingly embraced this state of being - all the way to the cross. He became what he healed, and He became the death that He died. And in that, He became the triumph of Easter and the power of the Empty Tomb.
This is the "power" that Jesus meant all of us to share - the power that puts an end to disjointedness and enables us to come together, to claim our beliefs as our own - not borrowed from or brokered by the powerful; the power to act on our beliefs. It is the power that enables us to meet Risen Jesus by seeking Him in the thick of life, in the least and the littlest, in a community gathered together around a table, in bread and in wine.
If we listen carefully to the words of Jesus, it is very clear that he wants us to exclude no one from our love - not the beggar, the borrower, the adulteress, the leper, the widow, the poor, the orphan, the enemy. Each of us can make our own list of the "most unwanted", those whom we find most difficult to forgive, to feel sympathy for, to offer compassion to. In our own day, that can mean the immigrant, the refugee, the divorced/remarried, the LGBTQ community - or the Republican, the Democrat, the Conservative, the Liberal.
Jesus tells us it makes no difference. Every single person is entitled to a fundamental respect and concern. Everyone is called to salvation and holiness. Everyone should find in us the same compassionate, all-inclusive mercy and love that they would find in Jesus.
Christian living requires work, lots of sacrifice, discipline and courage. It takes heroic love to make the Gospel message come alive in our world. It's not easy to be poor, to be merciful, to be meek, to be peacemakers, to hunger and thirst for justice. It takes a lot of courage to be persecuted and ridiculed and mocked for being authentic Christians, for being Christ-like. It takes faith and trust in God to admit our own weaknesses and dependence upon one another - rather than looking at each other's faults.
Living the Gospel is a constant challenge. It makes us reexamine our mental attitudes, our actions, our speech, and many of the prejudices we grow up with or those we have embraced.
We are called to become a church that doesn't fear to dream; a church unafraid to become what it heals; a church that doesn't fear the body or its failures; a church that isn't afraid to fail, to forgive or to seek forgiveness; a church that isn't afraid to speak to power. We are called to become a church that knows death is the path to life.
We must dare to become that kind of community - as John XXIII once described, a "community of peace, willing to walk along the road with anyone, as far as possible."