THE SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – February 16, 2014

 

A reading from the Book of Sirach 15:15-20

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 2:6-10

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 5:17-37

 

The mode of instruction continues in this week in the readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Sirach instructs regarding humankind’s freedom to choose between good and evil, death and life.  The best and clearest way to do this is to heed the Law and keep the Commandments.  Jesus, in the Gospel, instructs the searching crowds and the committed disciples about how they are to live as followers of the new way, as members of God’s Kingdom.  And, remembering last Sunday’s Gospel declaration about disciples being the salt of the earth and light of the world, even a few living in imitation of Christ will make all the difference in the world.

As you think about Sirach’s words you might come to the conclusion that he is saying that our freedom to choose is absolute.  Choose good.  Avoid evil.  Would that that were so.  For one thing, we believe in the effects of Original Sin, that as a result of the first bad decision, all are born compromised, as it were.  That flaw can make sin attractive.  Put succinctly and well by Saint Paul, we can constantly find ourselves not doing what we should and doing what we should not.  Hence the struggle to throw off the vestiges of sin and live as children of the light.

Cause can be made for the normal person’s freedom to choose, but contemporary psychology is telling us that many people are fundamentally flawed and not as free.  Think of the sociopath or the psychopath.  Learning about the disorders does not excuse the evils done, but it does point out the need for society to protect the disordered from themselves and the vulnerable from them.  Think of Ted Bundy, or Adolph Hitler, or any other person guilty of horrific deeds, and there is consolation in believing that the perpetrator was not entirely free.  The death penalty is not the answer.  Keeping perpetrators in safe places, be that imprisonment for the rest of their lives, might be.

The one truth that Sirach is proclaiming is that God is not the author of evil.  Nor is the devil made me do it always a valid excuse.  For better or worse, God has bestowed on us the freedom to choose, compromised as that choosing might be.  We have the responsibility to pray for the grace to always choose the good and reject the evil, and in so doing, we become the light that guides others on the right path.  Another truth we might harvest from our reflection is that none of us is in a position to judge another.  Only God knows the inner secrets of the human heart.

The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians is an appropriate transition from the first reading to the Gospel.  Paul proclaims that to live as a follower of Christ will necessarily involve not living by what the world will sees as wisdom.  The Corinthians could not accept the Cross of Christ.  Paul believed that it is by the Cross of Christ that we are saved.  We find our freedom in the Cross.  The Cross takes us on the path that leads to what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart… what God has prepared for those who love him.  Remember that many who looked on saw in the Crucifixion ultimate defeat.  We believe that Christ triumphed over death in his dying, and that he rose to new life, a life shared with us through our Baptism and will bring us to eternal life with Christ.

And so we come to the Gospel.  We sit before Jesus and are instructed in what it means to be a disciple and how we are to live as disciples.  First, notice that Jesus does not disparage the Law.  Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  Jesus teaches us that we are to go beyond the seeming limitations of the Law.  Jesus chastised the scribes and the Pharisees for their single-minded focus on the Law, their straining after gnats and ignoring the beam.  Here the Lord tells us what the Law proclaims and says that that is only the beginning.  You have heard it said… but I tell you.  Six times we will hear those phrases and six times we will hear that love demands more than the mere limitations set by the Law.

The Law says: Thou shalt not kill.  Jesus forbids anger and any exchange that would belittle or deny the dignity of the other.  If there is estrangement between two, repair that before entering into worship.

The Law says: You shall not commit adultery.  Jesus tells us that not only is physical adultery forbidden, but so are all thoughts and desires that are tantamount to adultery in the heart.  Such thoughts and desires are to be banished from the heart of a disciple.  And notice that Jesus says we are to take drastic measures of self-discipline to keep ourselves on the right path.  But note also that the seeming instruction to tear out the eye, or cut off a hand, is figurative.  (I remember reading the sad story of a young man who took this Gospel teaching literally and in order to quiet the forces of lust that he felt, cut off his right arm.  That is not what the Lord is advocating.)  But we are to discipline our thoughts and honor and respect the other, to love the other as Jesus loves.

Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce is absolute.  But you will notice that as soon as the absolute statement is made, there is a qualification given.  Jesus teaches the ideal.  The married should strive to live that ideal as people whose union speaks to the world of the union between Christ and the Church.  When that breaks down, then the reality needs to be resolved in light of the Gospel and within the community that is the Church.

The Law says: Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.  Jesus says the disciple must be a person of honor and therefore not one who needs to swear by heaven, or by Jerusalem, or by anything else.  Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,” and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’  There is no room for deception in the Community of the Faithful.

There is plenty to ponder in this Sunday’s readings, lots to pray about.  It is probably safe to say that some of us will find areas where we are not perfect, evidence that we are sinners.  The proclamation of the Word is not meant to cause us to despair if we find fault.  Rather, when we recognize that disparity between where we are and where Christ calls us to be, then we pray and ask for the grace and the courage to take the steps to root out from our lives what is contrary to the Gospel and says “Yes, Lord, if you lead the way.”

So the Assembly, most of us sinners, come to the Table to celebrate Eucharist.  This is the action that is the source and summit of all we do as church.  In the course of our prayer the bread and wine will be transformed.  In the course of our prayer the Assembly will be transformed.  In the course of our celebration we will take and eat, and take and drink, and find the strength to live the transformation so that we can go forth and be salt of the earth and a light to the world.

The Lord would not ask this of disciples were it not possible – with the help of grace and the Spirit.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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