Jesus not only tells his disciples that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law, he constantly teaches how this is true, models how to put his teachings into practice, and empowers them to do so. In his Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain alone, we can see the development of his teaching and building on the foundation of Torah. With his Beatitudes, such as, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, and his Six Antithesis including, “You have heard that it was said ‘an eye for an eye,’ but I say to you offer no resistance to one who is evil”, we can see the further development of Jewish teaching on full display.
If we seriously take the time to read through Jesus’ teachings, we will see quickly how challenging they are. Jesus is not lowering the bar of discipline for his followers, but in fact raising it. Jesus is not putting heavy burdens on us for burden sake, he seeks to make us holy. He himself lives what he preaches, but Jesus is no ordinary teacher or mentor. The principles that he teaches, forgiving seventy-seven times, loving our enemy, giving up all to follow him, these seemed impossible to his disciples and so do to us as well.
On face value, we may think these and many of Jesus’ teachings are not possible to put into practice. Attempting to do so with our will power alone is not a strategy for long term success, for we will come up short each time. Jesus does not expect nor desire for us to accomplish living as a follower of his on our own efforts. We are to yolk ourselves with him and be open to the transforming power and love of the Holy Spirit acting through us. This happens when we daily invite Jesus into our life.
To be a follower of Jesus is to learn his teaching, study his life, and surrender our self to his will through prayer, discipline, worship, service, and participation in the sacraments. Ultimately though, it is nothing we do, other than putting ourselves in a position of being open to and allowing Jesus to live his life in and through us and direct that which we receive outward toward others. In this way, we are transformed by his love and conformed by his life.
The path of faith is not a sprint or a one time event, but a marathon, a journey. Each of us can be assured that Jesus is with us for the long haul. We are habitual creatures, may we, in collaboration with Jesus and infused by his grace, create some habits of holiness this Lent, with the intent that Jesus will make us holy as he is holy!