Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 5:38-48
Would you rather simply fulfill an obligation, check a box and move on, or exceed expectations and go above and beyond?
When it comes to gift giving, I’m all about fulfilling the obligation and no more. I do the bare minimum for Christmas and birthdays to ensure that my loved ones aren’t disappointed. This normally includes one of Amazon’s first three birthday options and a card. Most of the time, I don't even wrap it. I hold the gift behind my back and yell, surprise, as I give it to them. Rockstar, I know.
But now and then, I decide to exceed expectations. I’ll spend hours on a handmade gift or give something creative that makes my loved one's heart soar. The look on their face reminds me that going above and beyond is always the better option.
In this week’s gospel, Jesus invites us to rise above the status quo of the law and embrace a life defined by the Spirit. What’s the difference? John 1:17 explains, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
This meant that the laws Moses gave demanded certain behaviors but didn’t have the power to transform the heart. Only the law of the Spirit could do that. Only the grace and truth brought by Jesus can enable us to soar above what the law requires and become capable of supernatural behavior.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles” (Matthew 5:38–41). “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44).
These are Jesus’ invitations out of the law of the flesh, which says:
This kind of goodwill toward neighbors is limited by the requirement of the law and our fleshly desires. As Jesus said, even unbelievers act this way (Matthew 5:46-47). But Jesus invites us into extravagance, a way of living that resembles the love that animates the Father Himself. He invites us to live according to the law of the Spirit, which has no limits:
Why is this the better and higher way to live? Because when we choose unending mercy, God sets us free from the bondage of being defined by someone else’s sin toward us. He takes on the burden of administering justice, a burden that only He can carry. He guides us as He helps us to take the necessary actions to heal the wounds. Unburdened by grudges, we can live with more freedom.
When we give more and go farther than is required, we expand our capacity to practice God’s generosity. No longer are we worried about what is “ours” and what is “fair.” Instead, we concern ourselves with what God wants and answer His call above others. He then enables us to live at a higher level, concerned with what concerns Him.
When we love supernaturally, God expands our capacity to love beyond the limits of our nature. The Holy Spirit transforms our human love into a love capable of transcending our feelings. That kind of love can bring even the most hardened heart to God because it is that kind of love that the world does not expect.
Anne Marie Schmidt, a Holocaust survivor, showed us what it looks like to live according to the Spirit and practice unending mercy, radical generosity, and boundless love. During the war, a German guard beat her within an inch of her life. Days later, she woke up in a hospital bed, shocked to see the same man at her side.
He asked, “Before you lost consciousness after I beat you, you said you forgave me. Is that true?” Completely disoriented, Anne Marie said to him, “By the power of Jesus Christ, I forgive you.” He looked at her and asked, “But do you forgive me?” Her reply, “I do not have the strength to forgive you, but my Jesus does, and it is by his power that I forgive you.” The man accepted this from her and then commanded her, “Tell me about your Jesus.” Choosing God’s desires over her own, she told him all about Jesus. The story ended with her becoming well enough to walk him down to a river and baptize him.
Is this easy? No. It’s hard. It is in our nature to want to love according to the flesh, which is why Jesus told us, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He reminded us that this kind of life is impossible without Him. And yet, a life lived above and beyond the law is the best. Living in the Spirit, God shows up and makes miracles in ordinary moments.
Food for thought or journaling…
In what ways am I satisfied to live my faith by checking boxes and following the status quo? How might the Lord be calling me to rise up and live according to the law of the Spirit?
Jesus, show me how You are calling me to live every day practicing Your supernatural forgiveness, generosity, and love. I offer You all the ways that I don’t trust that You will honor this kind of extravagance and ask You to convict my heart to follow You as far as You lead. Amen.
 Anne Marie Schmidt, “To Hell And Back: Divine Love and The Cross,” Lighthouse Catholic Media, accessed 02/02/2023, https://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/store/title/to-hell-and-back-divine-love-and-the-cross-1.