THE SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – FEBRUARY 13, 2011

Sirach 15:15-20

1 Corinthians 2:6-10

Matthew 5:17-37

For three weeks now, we have been seated at Jesus’ feet listening to the his first major preaching to the first group of those who had decided to follow him, and to a large group that hadn’t yet made up their minds.  The Sermon will continue over the next several weeks.  Whereas the first audience had little previous exposure to what was entailed in discipleship.  We, on the other hand, either have seen ourselves as disciples for some time, we call ourselves Christians, or we are new to the faith, having been baptized in the recent past.  One thing is fairly safe to say, the bulk of the Sermon is familiar to us.

I sometimes wish there were a way to wipe the slate clean, so to speak, so that we could again have the experience of hearing these teachings for the first time so that they could stun us the way the first hearers were.  The Christian walk is not easy.  If our defenses are down and we are vulnerable to Jesus’ words, we should find ourselves wondering, who can do this.  For all the discussion about the Law that the scribes and Pharisees engaged in, the end result was to know that just about every possibility for violation was covered in the over 630 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Laws tell us the least we can or cannot do.

Jesus takes us on a whole new track and removes the safeguard of the minimum.  Jesus urges us toward the fulfilling of the Law’s intent, not removing us from the need to observe it.  After all, the Decalogue is the sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.  And obeying the commandments would be an eloquent sign to all the other nations of what it means to be God’s chosen people.  Now a new covenant is being formed through Jesus.  And love is the new law that disciples must live.

The scribes and the Pharisees could be characterized as being scrupulous about the Law and probably could quote them verbatim in their entirety.  Hear what Jesus says: I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Fulfilling the minutiae of the law is not enough for God to reign in our lives.  It has to do with love.  God said to the people, through Moses, when you keep the commandments others will know that I am your God and you are my people.  Jesus is saying: By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Love becomes the Law in the new Way.  Love of God.  Love of neighbor.  Loving One necessitates loving the other.  And vice versa.  As soon as love becomes the norm we find the all-consuming demands of the new Law.

The Law says: You shall not kill, and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. We know what murder is, the taking of another’s life.  Some would immediately put qualifications on the commandment and say: you shall not commit murder, except under these circumstances or conditions. Those circumstances or conditions usually have to do with provocation.  It’s murder only when the victim has done nothing to merit the killer’s blow.

Jesus gives us an outline of how life is to be lived in the Kingdom that he is initiating.  As the promulgator of the New Way, there is much more that he expects of disciples than not committing murder.  He does not do away with the commandment, but he does speak in the first person and expand on what should be included under that law.  What I say to you is that far more than murder is unacceptable in this faith community.  Jesus is reordering creation and clarifying the implications of living as children of God, brothers and sisters in the Lord.

More than murder is forbidden here.  So are anger and abusive language.  Of course there is such a thing as just anger.  That is not forbidden by the new commandment.  Jesus’ own actions attest to this.  He was angry when he made a whip out of his belt and drove the moneychangers from the temple.  The justification for his rage?  My Father’s house is a house of prayer; you have made it a den of thieves. Anger is an appropriate response to injustice and the exploitation of the vulnerable.  Anger compelled Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  They responded to the horrors they witnessed as non-violent reformers.  Apartheid angered Archbishop Desmond Tutu and compelled him to work for reconciliation.  There are situations and conditions that warrant anger.  A license to kill does not follow.

Jesus words are addressed to his disciples.  The Messiah tells them how they are to conduct themselves in his emerging community in which all are brothers and sisters.  Killing a brother or sister is reprehensible, but so is hating a brother or sister and merits the same consequence, damnation.  The one who hates deems the object of his hatred to be loathsome, abominable, and detestable.  One cannot have such an attitude toward a brother or sister, a fellow member of the community.

So then, whom can one hate?  It becomes clear that Jesus bans hatred?  In the abstract you might think that it is not all that challenging to banish hatred from your life.  But put a face on the enemy and see him as the one who has done something despicable to you, ruined your life, or absconded with your spouse or your life’s savings.  Could you wash that person’s feet?  Jesus would.  He exchanged a kiss with Judas, after all.

It was jealousy between brothers that caused the first murder.  Cain killed Abel because God seemed to favor Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s.  We are called to be members of a new society where brothers and sisters live in unity and peace because that has been God’s desire for the human family from the beginning.

So it seems clear that Jesus is saying to his disciples that they can never be content with dissention in the community.  These are people who process together to the Table to partake of the One Bread and the One Cup, to be one in the Christ who lives in them.  Disciples can never accept fractured relationships.  Because someone offends does not mean that he or she can be shunned or exiled from the community.  The grace of repentance is always available.  And so Jesus admonishes the offender, the one who caused the breakdown to have as his or her first priority to make amends and seek reconciliation.  This obligation comes before the obligation to worship God.  If the person is on his way to temple with the elements of sacrifice in hand, Jesus says to tend to first things first.  Reconcile and then offer the sacrifice.

It is not by accident that our Liturgy begins with the Penitential Rite. Herein we call to mind our sins and, recognizing that there is no such thing as a private sin that does not weaken the whole assembly, we ask pardon of God and of our neighbor before we enter into the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Then do not miss the significance of the greeting of peace that precedes the Communion Procession.  What we are celebrating is the reconciliation that is necessary to heal the breaches in our society.  We enter into the Mystery of the Community that is our God.  It is the grace of that transformation that we must put into practice loving others as we are loved in Christ.

The operative word is Love!

Sincerely,

Didymus 

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