The Strength of Meekness

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Memorial of St. Barnabas, Apostle 

Matthew 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise, your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” 

Opening Prayer: I come before you today, Lord, full of a deep desire to know you better and to let your grace and truth transform my life. I know I am just a pilgrim journeying through this earth on my way to the Father’s house. But this journey is often difficult and confusing, even painful. I need your help, your healing, your protection. I turn to you exercising my faith in your presence and your goodness. Confident in your own promise that whoever asks will receive, I humbly ask you to grant me a fresh outpouring of your Holy Spirit through my prayer today. 

Encountering Christ:

  1. Becoming a Peacemaker: Three of the Beatitudes have to do explicitly with how we treat other people. In the verses from today’s Gospel, Jesus expounds on them as he develops the meaning behind the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Jesus explains that we are meant to live in profound communion with each other. Strife and conflict between people are not part of God’s original plan for the human family. Created in God’s own image and likeness, we are called to mirror in our relationships with each other the communion between the three persons of the Trinity. Every human being shares the same human dignity, and Jesus died for each one. Whenever we let resentment or anger close our hearts to another person, we are contradicting our very nature as children of God. Practically speaking, we cannot dictate how other people will treat us or respond to us, but we certainly can control our own attitudes and behaviors towards them. This is what Jesus challenges us to be aware of in today’s Gospel. Seeking reconciliation and harmony in response to life’s inevitable conflicts is one way we become the “peacemakers” Jesus praises in the Beatitudes.
  2. Meekness and Mercy: Jesus warns us about anger in this passage. Anger can be a healthy response to injustice, as in the case of Jesus himself when he encountered the money-changers in the Temple. But often anger flows from self-centeredness rather than righteousness, and even righteous anger can lead us to act in destructive rather than constructive ways. Meekness, praised by Jesus in the third Beatitude, is the virtue that helps us govern feelings of anger. To be meek is to be strong enough to channel anger in positive and constructive directions. Meekness means never harming our neighbor, never lashing out at others in irrational violence, even when they may be in the wrong. Mercy, praised by Jesus in the fifth Beatitude, goes even one step further, forgiving those who have offended us. Jesus will speak about mercy again later in the Sermon on the Mount, but even in this passage we see how important it is for us to keep our hearts open towards others, always and everywhere. This was a strong characteristic of today’s saint, St. Bartholomew, whose name means “son of encouragement” and who reached out to St. Paul when everyone else was afraid to.
  3. The Truth about Our Neighbor: Jesus emphasizes the consequences of our actions in this passage. If we fail to treat others with respect and goodness, we will be “liable to judgment” and “liable to fiery Gehenna” and “thrown into prison.” By sinning against other people, we actually damage ourselves. A mysterious connection links all people to each other, and so when we harm other others we also harm ourselves. This truth comes across clearly in the prayer Jesus taught us, where we address God as “Our Father.” Every human being is created by God and called to live in communion with him. Every human being is our brother or sister. We are all united in God’s eyes, and by the fact of sharing the same human nature and the same destiny. When we fail to live out this truth, we belittle ourselves as well as others, and we distance ourselves from God. Jesus’s vivid language and concrete comparisons in this passage are trying to bring this lesson home to us: We must always seek to build up other people, because we are all in the same boat and called to fellowship in the same family of God. To sin against our neighbor, then, is to turn away from life’s true destination.

Conversing with Christ: Dear Lord, you never give up on anyone. You came to offer your friendship and grace to every single person. Your heart is universal. And mine? You know how hard it is for me to overcome my prejudices and moods. You know how easy it is for me to give in to resentment and foster division. So often people misunderstand me, and their flaws and faults cause me problems and damage. How can I be meek and merciful in the face of all that? I don’t know, Lord, but you know. Please teach me to treat everyone with respect. Teach me to manage my own emotions with the courage of meekness. Make my heart, O Lord, more and more like yours every single day. 

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will reach out to someone with whom I have had a falling out and try to do my part to reconcile with them. 

For Further Reflection: Messenger of Mercy: A Retreat Guide on St. Paul. 

written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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