Saturday of the First Week of Lent
DT 26:16-19/MT 5:43-48
When I was in graduate school, I received a B+ on an essay. The professor was a world-renowned sociologist and I wanted to do better. I asked him, “How can I get a stronger grade on the next paper?”
“It’s simple,” he said. “Do what I do. Do everything.”
Cue awkward silence.
In the days that followed, I vacillated from frustrated (“Just give me clear steps, man”), to haughty (“Who does he think he is, telling me to do it all? So typical of professors”).
That experience came to mind when I reflected on today’s readings.
Moses tells us to follow the God’s laws with all your heart and with all of your soul. In the responsorial psalm, “Blessed are they who observe his decrees, who seek him with all their heart.”
It’s a complex directive for otherwise clear commandments- Don’t kill, don’t lie. Check, check. In Lent, that might translate to “Don’t eat that cookie.” Check. Chasing these mandates with all of our strength seems a particularly opaque and burdensome order.
But we “are to be a people particularly his own,” and we learn in the Gospel that means we must strive “to be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.” Rather than privilege rote sacrifice, we are to seek what really stretches us - loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors.
We must do everything.
My angst ended when I realized my professor’s mandate was an invitation- tacit approval of my abilities and a call to be great. He was offering me membership in his circle.
We get an invitation in today’s Gospel, too. We are made in God’s image- why settle for less than a full learning experience this Lent, or any time of year? What good is giving up a cookie if we can instead provide comfort to the hungry? Why simply stop arguing if we can also build bridges?
The Gospel makes no guarantees that our efforts will be successful, but the mandate is a huge compliment that they could be- and that we must try.
Theology Professor, Dougherty Family College