First, the Goal
The goal of a mature person is reflected in their examination of conscience regarding sin. “I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…”
As I have matured in my faith and grown in holiness, I notice that my confession is no longer focused so much on what I have done, but rather what I, through my own fault, have failed to do.
In short, as a 68 year old, I am not confessing that I feel remorse for having committed adultery, but rather that I failed to love my wife as she deserves. My goal is to not fail to love. This is Jesus’ goal for me as well as seen in today’s excerpt of the Sermon on the Mount.
Second, His Approach to Teaching a Child
Jesus was a teacher, but so was my father.
When I was of a tender age, my father focused on those things that I needed to not do. Sometimes a reason was given, other times without a reason, I was expected to obey simply because he said so. In short, my father was not arbitrary with conduct rules, and obeying them was for my own good and safety. He loved me.
When I failed to obey, I was disciplined, again because he loved me. My father, like God, “…disciplines those he loves. He severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child.” Heb 12:6.
A proper reading of the Old Testament is reflected in Psalm 103. “The Lord Is Kind and Merciful, Slow to Anger and Rich in Compassion.”
Third, His Approach to Teaching an Adult Child
When I went off to college, my father did not stop being my father. He continued to help form me into a successful adult and become the head of my own household. Soon it would be my turn to teach my children.
Now, it was no longer acceptable simply not to lie – it was necessary to be scrupulously honest. It was not enough to refrain from hurting others, but necessary to help those in need. The transformation was subtle but real. I no longer feared getting spanked; instead, my remorse was centered on the disappointment I saw on my father’s face.
Jesus the Perfect Teacher
Reflect again on today’s gospel at Mt 5: 17-37. You will see that He truly did not come to displace the law of God, but to fulfill it with love. It is not enough not to kill, you must not in anger even demean another person. It is not enough to avoid committing adultery; you must not even lust secretly over another. If you feel the need to swear by the name of God to be believed, you should examine your life and confess those things that have robbed you of a reputation for being an honest and trustworthy person.
A Final Consideration
We are called to love. If like a child a person is still too immature to be motivated to act in love, he should worry not, for Jesus also preached fear of hell as a motivator to do the right thing. Jesus would prefer the former but will accept the latter.
Hell must be intolerable, if one should opt to cut out one’s eyes, or even an arm or hand to avoid it. Yet, if that is what motivates a person, he should use that fear as he might have done in his youth, to nevertheless act in a manner pleasing to God. With time, love will replace that fear – for the habit of doing good is the foundation for a virtuous life.