12 Feb, 2017. 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Theme: Using our freedom well.
It is not so much individual acts that can separate us from God, but our disorientated hearts, drawn to self-assertion and selfishness. Jesus insists that our conscience must go deeper than external deeds. The vital question is what is going on within our hearts, our thoughts and motives? He teaches this with various examples, combining simplicity with irony and wit.
1st Reading: Sirach 15:15-20
To act well and honorably is a matter of personal choice
If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water;stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given.
For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him,and he knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
The power of the cross is revealed by the wisdom that comes from God
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,” God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37
We must obey the spirit, and not just the letter of the law
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you,unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
Seeking what bring us together
[José Antonio Pagola]
The Jews spoke proudly about the Law of Moses. According to tradition, God Self had given it to God’s people. It was the best they had received from God. In that Law was contained the will of the one true God. There they could find all that they needed to be faithful to God.
For Jesus also the Law is important, but now it’s not in the center. Jesus lives and communicates another experience: God’s Reign is coming, the Father is looking for a path to open among us for the building of a more human world. It’s not enough for us to just keep Moses’ Law. It’s necessary to open ourselves to the Father and to collaborate with God in building a more just and fraternal life.
That’s why, according to Jesus, it’s not enough to fulfill the law that orders: “Don’t kill”. It’s also necessary to root out of our lives aggression, looking down on others, insults or revenge. Whoever doesn’t kill fulfills the law, but if we don’t free ourselves from violence, then that God who seeks to build a more human world with us still doesn’t reign in our hearts.
Observers note a growing tendency in our current society to speak in ways that express aggression. More and more we see offensive insults cast about just to humiliate, look down on others, wounding their dignity; words born of rejection, resentment, hate or revenge. How often are our own conversations woven from unjust words that spread criticism and suspicion? Words spoken without love or respect, that poison our living together and cause damage – words born of irritation, meanness or baseness.
This malice isn’t just found in our day-to-day living together. It’s also a serious problem in today’s Church. Pope Francis suffers when he sees divisions, conflicts and confrontations of “Christians at war against other Christians”. This is a situation so contrary to the Gospel that he has felt it necessary to send us an urgent message: “No! to the war among ourselves”.
The Pope has this sobering thought: “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy, and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?” The Pope wants to work for a Church in which “everyone can admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another”.
New standards for living
We notice a tension between the Gospel and the reading from Sirach. While Jesus makes the commandments even more demanding, Sirach says we can keep the commandments if we really want to. Both readings are very direct and there’s no missing their message.
Jesus warns against not merely murder, as the most extreme disregard for another person, but also lesser forms of disrespecting them. What unites the three faults he lists (losing our temper, using insulting names and refusal to forgive) is that in each of them another’s feelings are totally disregarded. The importance of forgiveness is shown by putting it above strictly religious duties, and presumably the same priority is assigned to the other two matters. For Jesus, one must respect not simply people’s right to life but also their dignity and self-respect. To do what is right towards my neighbour, it’s not enough to merely stay within the law. Various things may be legal, but still not fully right, in the Gospel sense.
He speaks about sexual purity, but broadens it to include purity of intention in general. The legal minimum is insufficient for Jesus. The words about self-mutilation (cutting off one’s hand, etc.) have never been understood literally by the Church and are best understood as a parable to express vividly the disastrous effects of sin. The correction he makes of the Old Law disallows an abuse which Moses tolerated, that is, remarriage after divorce. The exceptive clause (“except on the ground of unchastity”) is still debated, but is usually taken to refer to a previous marriage that was prohibited by Jewish laws. Jesus was simply reaffirming the sanctity of the marriage bond, as in Genesis “the two shall become one flesh” — a loving, interdependent union. Yet our Church leaders are still pondering what is the best pastoral way to deal with today’s social realities, and allow divorced and remarried Catholics to share fully in Eucharistic communion.
The prohibition of oaths has not been taken as literally by the Catholic Church as it has by some other Christians. Jesus held that oaths should not be necessary at all, if there is a general a atmosphere of trust and truth-telling. In such a society reinforcement by oaths would not be needed. This it is an atmosphere of openness and mutual confidence which Jesus promoted. What he teaches by his corrections of the Law is a morality of values held from the heart.