Inside out

Gospel Commentary MT 5:17-37

One of the characters made famous by the television series “Star Trek” was Mr. Spock. Spock was the completely rational person. His vision was unclouded by emotion. Sometimes, we imagine ourselves to be like that, making rational decisions, rational choices and rational responses.

 In fact, we are not like that. Although we won’t admit it, emotions, feelings and past experiences shape our thinking and our living more profoundly than we realize.

Everyone has an “inside” and an outside. The outside of us is the behavior that people can see. Imagine people shopping in the mall. Everything and everyone appears very orderly. Imagine that these same people were turned inside out. What would we see?

If we could see within, we might find in some, even in many, heroic holiness, powerful charity and deep love of God. We would also see in others a world of anger, bitterness, hate, jealousy, ambition, distance from loved ones, neglect of marriage relationships and unresolved hurts.

It is far harder to control this inner world where all kinds of vices can reside and thrive. Sometimes it seems to have a life of its own. This inner world can dominate our lives.

There is a story of a young boy who lost control of his yellow balloon. As he saw it rise high into the sky, he saw a man selling helium balloons. He asked whether the red one he would buy would rise as high as the yellow one he lost. The man assured him that it would. He asked further whether the green one would rise as high. The man assured him that it would as well. He asked whether the blue one would rise as high. The man answered, “Son, it’s not the color on the outside but what is on the inside that counts.” So it is with our moral life.

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, the letter of the law is important. But there is more to discipleship than the letter of the law. There is also the spirit of the law about which Jesus speaks at length.

It is this inner world that needs conversion and grace. We are not saved only by the letter of the law but by its spirit.

The letter of the law tells us to go to church on Sunday. But we violate the spirit of the law if we spend our time in church texting, reading pamphlets from the publications rack or daydreaming.

The letter of the law tells us not to kill. But we violate the spirit of the law if we let anger, ridicule and even hate infect our heart, mind and soul.

The letter of the law tells us not to commit adultery. But we violate the spirit of the law if the illusions depicted by pornography populate our minds, eroding our fidelity in marriage, exchanging fantasy in place of reality.             

To focus only on our exterior behavior that people can see and neglecting the inside that people cannot see is like putting aluminum siding on a deteriorating house. Soon the siding will deteriorate. As Jesus says later in Matthew’s Gospel, “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Mt 23:26).

How seriously will we take Lent this year? Will we be content with adjusting a few external behaviors? Or will we look within and start to cleanse and purify our attitudes? For anyone seeking to have a muscular and honest spirituality, nothing can surpass the challenges Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount in today’s Gospel reading. It is the most effective boot camp for the new Christian and a program of a lifetime for all of us. Are we willing to purify memory, forgive hurts, nurture a faithful heart in marriage and open ourselves to God’s grace? None of us is a Mr. Spock. We are not completely rational and need the grace of God to heal our inner world. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017