For a number of years, “WWJD” wristbands and bumper stickers were popular among young people. The initials stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” and were meant to help people ask in every situation, “How am I living right now?” “What am I thinking in this situation?” “What would Jesus do in the same circumstance?” This is the same urgent message that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount: How are we living today, right now?
When we look at the Sermon on the Mount, we can see how it expresses the “new law” and how this new law tells us what Jesus would do in every situation (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1967-1969). The Sermon on the Mount is divided into three sections: the Beatitudes, the new commandments, and the importance of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—all followed by concluding words of encouragement to seek the presence and grace of the Lord.
The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are a list of godly virtues that Jesus lived out with all his heart (Matthew 5:3-12). Now, Jesus wants us to live just as he lived as we rely on his grace. He wants us to ask, “Am I poor in spirit? Compassionate? Meek? Hungry for truth? Merciful? Pure in heart? A peacemaker? Patient in persecution?” If we are striving for these virtues in our lives, we can be sure that we are becoming more like Jesus and that he will bless our efforts.
On one hand, the Beatitudes are a list of the “do’s” of the Christian life. On the other hand, they show us how God is going to bless us and protect us as we try to put them into practice.
The New Commandments. After the Beatitudes, Jesus takes some of the negative commandments—murder, adultery, revenge, judging others, and dealing with enemies— to a new level. He raised these “don’ts” of the Ten Commandments to a new level of purity. In other words, Jesus was saying that if we want to be pure in heart, compassionate, and merciful, then we’re going to have to put aside hatred, lust, and revenge.
History has shown that many people have had the opportunity to imitate Jesus and have chosen in these opportunities to act as he did. St. Stephen forgave the people who killed him (Acts 7:60). Pope John Paul II forgave the man who tried to assassinate him. The late Cardinal Bernardin forgave the man who falsely accused him of sexual abuse. And there are many more.
Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving. Next, Jesus told us to pray, to fast, and to give generously to those in need. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of Dives, a rich man who was condemned to hell not because of his wealth, but because of his indifference toward the poor man Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). In another place, Jesus talks about those who care for the poor, the hungry, and the prisoners as the ones who are rewarded with heavenly grace (Matthew 25:34-40).
The rules for living contained in the Sermon on the Mount form the foundation for the new law and the basis of a godly perspective. While the new law may appear to be very demanding, it’s the way Jesus lived his life and it’s the way he wants us to live as well. And, at the heart of the new law is the greatest commandment—to love one another as Jesus has loved us (CCC, 1970).
Cooperating with the Holy Spirit. All our lives, we are shaped by our day-to-day experiences—at work, in school, in church, and at home. But at the same time, we are also shaped as the Holy Spirit gives us his insight through grace and revelation.
As we combine openness to the Holy Spirit with our natural activities, we will find ourselves wanting to please God. We will want to know his peace. We will want to develop the virtues and disciplines that make up our life in Christ. Above all, we will want—as the Beatitudes say—to be “blessed” by God.
However, if we try to put these new laws into practice on our own, we will fall short. Surely, our own will power and discipline can help us develop godly virtues—to a point. However, if we want to know the fullest blessings of this kind of life, we need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. St. Stephen, Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal Bernardin were able to forgive because they were being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Can it be any different for us?
Each of us has our own set of strengths (God-like qualities) and weaknesses (ways that offend God). The Spirit wants to take our strengths and make them even stronger, just as he wants to reduce our weaknesses and end their domination over us.
When we invest time in our relationship with the Holy Spirit, we will find the love and grace of God. We will find our strengths growing stronger, and we will have more control over our weaknesses. We will experience the Holy Spirit pouring out God’s love on us and at the same time gently convicting us that we need to change and convincing us that Jesus is the Lord and our life-changer (John 16:8-11).
Jesus Loves Us. God loves us far more than we love our children. Just as we want to shape the lives of our children with virtues, so, too, the Holy Spirit wants us to shape our lives with the same virtues that Jesus displayed.
Jesus is our great Physician (Matthew 9:12). He wants to heal us and change us and mold us into his image. Yes, we have a crucial part to play. We have to yield to the Holy Spirit and we have to go out each day and try our best to live good lives. But God loves to bless our sincere efforts and build us into the likeness of Jesus, his only Son.
The Holy Spirit wants to transform and renew us. He wants to make us holy and pleasing to God. When we hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice, we will be known as wise people who build their house on the rock (Matthew 7:24). We will be known as a people who have a godly perspective on life that is based on the new law of love.