It sounds so easy. “If you choose you can keep the commandments …” Of course we choose to keep the commandments, at least most of the time. It’s kind of like those pictures where there’s a little angel (good) on one shoulder and a little devil (evil) on the other. We want to listen to the angel, but sometimes that little devil can be pretty convincing, especially with April 15 and tax time right around the corner.
But, then, that’s not really a matter of life and death. It’s not like cheating a little on your taxes (most of us would never think of cheating a lot!) is going to make all that big of a difference, right? Unless, of course, I live in a city where police officers and fire fighters are being laid off because there’s no money to pay them (that money comes from our taxes, right?) resulting in diminished protection for citizens; or unless the school budget in my town is being cut, along with teachers and programs. But that’s not my problem. I don’t have any kids in school. Why should I have to pay to educate other people’s children? Now don’t misunderstand me. It’s not like I don’t love them. The truth is I don’t even know them. I’m just doing the smart thing. After all, everyone else is doing it.
As for that part in Matthew’s Gospel about my brother having something against me … no problem. My brother and I are just fine, especially since it’s not my brother who got laid off or my sister’s kids’ school that was hit with budget cuts. As long as no one in my own family is involved it’s pretty easy to divorce myself from the situation. Besides, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and the wisdom of the age tells us to take care of number one. As long as I bring my gift to the altar isn’t that “righteousness” enough?
“Yes” or “No?” An angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other — good and evil — which one do we choose to listen to?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.