Guilty as charged!

This morning, I received in the mail an envelope upon which were written those ominous words: “Notice of Liability.” Sometime back in January, I got caught by one of those traffic-light cameras. On the notice were three photos of my car as I was making a right turn from Merrick Avenue onto Stewart Avenue. Now, these are some of the thoughts that went through my mind: “Sure, Nassau County is making me pay for their $100 million dollar deficit.” “That right-turn arrow was still green when I went through it.” “I bet there was a big truck in front of me and I never saw the light change.” “Wasn’t it snowing that day? Maybe I was trying to avoid a collision!” “Why don’t they go after the really bad drivers!”

In all of those thoughts, never did it cross my mind to think, “I’m guilty.” I actually had to watch the on-line video to convince myself that I was wrong. And so I paid – and hopefully learned my lesson.

Most of us think of ourselves as decent, law-abiding citizens. That’s perhaps why these traffic cameras irritate us – they are so precise with little or no wiggle room.

In today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t give much “wiggle room” to his listeners who, I am sure, thought of themselves as law-abiding citizens. They weren’t the murderers, the adulterers, the corrupt and dishonest. Yet, in each of these three cases, Jesus raises the bar and talks about the interior attitudes that are murderous, adulterous, insincere. Using abusive language, holding onto lustful thoughts, or not being absolutely honest puts us at risk in not inheriting the Kingdom of heaven.

Guilty as charged! Today’s gospel has an equalizing force that puts all of us, saints and sinners alike, in the same category: guilty. If the playing field is leveled and we all stand guilty of transgressing the spirit of the law, then there is no room for arrogance or pride or even self-righteousness. We are all made of the same clay - and that clay is half-baked!

If that were the end of the story, however, there would be no good news to proclaim! For the good news is that salvation has come to all, not just to the wretched refuse at the bottom of the pit of society. Jesus has come to offer more than just a new law, one that is more sublime than the old. He has come to offer more than just a new rule book. He has come to offer power, grace, the gifts of the Spirit that can empower us to produce good fruits. Sincerely seek that grace of having a heart that is more tolerant, a heart that is more chaste, a heart that is more sincere – and allow God to do His re-creative work in us this very day.

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