We’re now into Part 2 of The Lord. We finished Part 1 with the Beatitudes, and now Guardini begins this next section by looking at the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, he has a two chapter reflection on what true justice and true love are, and how we are possibly going to live up to what is demanded of us. We know what these things are. Don’t be like the hypocrites who do things only to be seen. Pray in secret (Matthew 6:5-6), fast in secret (Matthew 6:16-18), give alms in secret and don’t even let your left hand know what the right hand is doing (Matthew 6:2-4)!
All of these seem to be warnings against our own egos—against the tendency of man to be incredibly vain. Indeed, even in doing a good act, like giving to a charitable cause, we feel an immediate sense of our own goodness. I think there are few people who would say they don’t enjoy that feeling. And yet Jesus tells us to do these things without our left hand even knowing what the right hand has done. Perhaps that means “Do things not for the reward, even the rewarding feeling you give yourself, but do them because the act is good to do.” However, I think that misses the mark, and this is where I think Guardini is really helpful. But I’ll come back to that in a moment, because in order to talk about reward we need to talk about justice.
You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, right? We know the line, we know Jesus says that’s not enough, et cetera. The Sermon on the Mount is a long speech where Jesus tries to drive home that our sense of justice is skewed. We tried to mete out justice, but every time we did we were not being truly just at all. Jesus tries to shift us into thinking not about the acts we do, like committing adultery, but the root of the act: the disposition. “So if thy right eye is an occasion of sin to thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee” (Matthew 5:27-30). The root of the problem can be found not in the act, but in the mere glance of the eye. And if the eye remains to go about its glancing, the act will follow. Therefore, pluck out the eye, pluck out the root of the problem, the occasion of sin.
“From the disposition comes the deed; thus a glance, an unspoken thought can profane a marriage. As long as you judge behavior solely by the presence or absence of the actual evil deed, you will be unable to avoid that deed. You cannot cope successfully with the evil act until you tackle it as the root of all action: the attitude of the heart as expressed in glance and word. What is really demanded is not superficial order, but intrinsic purity and respect. These in their turn require spiritual self-control and careful guarding of the natural reactions.”
-Romano Guardini ("The Lord")
God gave the Commandments to Moses for this purpose—to turn the heart of man and “awaken the whole human being as God meant him to be.” But man started making distinctions. Man separated the disposition from the act. The obedience asked of us was too daunting, and so we found a way to make it easier. Jesus spends this entire Sermon trying to correct us, and get us to focus on the true source of our unholiness, the true source of our injustice to each other and to ourselves. We give to others as they give to us, and treat others as they treat us, because we see that as just. If someone is violent to us, we are violent to them. In geopolitical terms, we call it a “proportional response.” But we are called to something beyond simple “justice.” We are called to love.
“To desire no more than justice, ‘Do not even the Gentiles do that?’ That is ethics. You, though, have been summoned by the living God. With ethics alone you will neither satisfy God nor fulfill your intrinsic possibilities. He wants you to risk love and the new existence which springs from it. Only in love is genuine fulfillment of the ethical possible. Love is the New Testament!”
-Romano Guardini ("The Lord")
Love is the calling, love beyond justice. Only through love can we truly be just. And this is what brings us back around to the question of reward, about doing things for the reward or doing them for the act. The interesting thing here is that Jesus speaks over and over again of a promise of reward. Pray in secret, fast in secret, give alms in secret, and the Father, who is in secret, will reward you.
The promise of reward is always there. And why? Because to do good for good’s own sake, to be so completely magnanimous and free that the pleasure of doing good with no thought of reward, that is something only God is capable of. Man feels self-denial. “I will give to this charity with the money I earned, and I won’t buy something I want later, because I have denied myself for the sake of this charity.” At the end of the day, we are still created beings. We are not God. To think that we can be entirely virtuous for virtue’s sake alone, absent grace, is to try make God of ourselves. Grace is the reason for the reward. Love is the reason.
The reward is there for us to grow, so that in our imperfect state, we see the reward from the Father. Namely, His love. For by seeking His love, our love for Him grows, and as our love grows, so too our disposition and sense of justice improves. Until eventually, the thought of reward is gone. It’s still there, “but vanished as a direct motive.” We do good because we love God. We love Him “because he is worthy to be who he is. I wish my act to affirm him to whom the multitudes of the angels cry: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12).
Every day of Lent, I am writing a reflection piece on two chapters of "The Lord" by Romano Guardini. If you'd like to read or follow along, you can find the full calendar of where we're at below, or Click Here for the main landing page.