Higher (Matthew 5:38-48)

by | Feb 8, 2023 | Formation, Reflections

There’s a phrase from  the sports world, “setting a high bar.” It means raising the height of the jump just beyond the mark the athlete think he can clear. It’s a way of calling for more than the person thinks he has in him. It stretches his estimation of his own capabilities.

If there ever was someone setting a high bar set in life — Christian life — it is Jesus in Matthew’s 5th chapter. If someone is suing you for the shirt off your back, Jesus says give him your coat as well! If someone wants to borrow money, don’t turn away but give it over! To that annoying person pressing you for  a mile out of your way, shock him by walking twice that distance.

How can a believer say a yes to these high bar standards, not to mention the still higher one of “loving my enemy!”

One approach is to return to the placing of that bar. It’s deliberately set at a height just above what the athlete thinks he can reach. Gazing up at those extra inches can excite jumper’s imagination to see himself vaulting over it. The challenge triggers a hope for reaching that someting more.

Don’t these challenges of Jesus have a way of stretching our imaginations. “Maybe I can forgive that person; just maybe I can go that extra mile.” Following Jesus raises up attitudes and behaviors anchored just out beyond our supposed capabilities.  And this from Jesus is not only challenge; it’s also Spirit-filled empowerment to walk those additional steps.

Another help in scaling those heights comes from The Lord’s metaphor of the family. As children of His heavenly Father, all of us are brothers and sisters, not just to Him but to one another. Gazing out through that window opens wider vistas as to who is our neighbor.

Recently I was privy to a heated conversation between two brothers whose politics stood at opposite ends of the spectrum. As as their dialogue reached fever pitch, one of them called for a time out. “Let’s be calm — let’s not forget we’re sons of the same mother and father.” His appeal was to a bond that ran deeper than their differences, that even when strained  in conflict moved each to want the good of the other. It was a flesh and blood instance of Jesus’ appeal to the Fatherhood of God — and so to the brotherhood  and sisterhood of us all.

There’s no doubting that The Lord Jesus raises this bar very high — higher than what most of us probably think ourselves capable.  But besides the challenge, it’s equally important to acknowledge the accompaniment.  As Jesus insists,”I will walk with you through the challenges of those dark valleys.  I will shepherd you beyond the far hill and bring you home. I will be with you at all times, even until the end of the world. I will lift you, again and again.”

In a conference on perserverance, Vincent underlines just this “reaching beyond.”

“For example, someone practices the first degree of an act of virtue. Tomorrow he will practice it to the second, then the third degree of perfection. And that’s how we grow, little by little…going higher and higher in this way, according as he works steadily at the practice of this virtue with the grace of God, without which we can do nothing.”

(Volume: 11 | Page#: 346-9) Repetition of Prayer, 19 November, 1656 added on 6/28/2011


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