It sounds so easy. “If you choose you can keep the commandments …” (Sir 15:15-20). Of course we choose to keep the commandments, at least most of the time. It’s like the little boy whose grandfather talked about there being a lion and a lamb battling inside each one of us. When the child asked which one would win the answer was, “whichever one you feed.”
We want to feed the lamb, but sometimes that hungry lion can be pretty convincing, especially with tax time right around the corner. But, then, paying taxes isn’t exactly a matter of life and death. It’s not like cheating a little on my taxes (most of us would never think of cheating) is going to make 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 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? It’s not that I don’t love those children. The truth is I don’t even know them. I’m just doing what’s smart. And, besides, 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.
A man came to the rabbi and said, “Help me, Rabbi! I am old and a sinner and I would very much like to die like a good, upright Jew.”
“Why do you worry about dying like an upright Jew?” asked the rabbi. “Better live like one, and you’ll die like one!”
(“A Tresaury of Jewish Folklore,” Crown Publishers, Inc., NY)
How do I choose to live? Lion or lamb – which do I choose to feed?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.