6th. Sunday of Year (1)
(Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)
We should be eternally grateful for the gift of faith which we have received, dear People of God, because it is the very wisdom of God, a wisdom which can lead us to that heavenly glory for which the Father chose us in Jesus (John 17:6):
I have revealed Your Name to those whom You gave Me out of the world. They belonged to You and You gave them to Me and they have kept Your word.
This God-given wisdom, this keeping of His word revealed to us in and by Jesus, is not something which the self-righteous and worldly-wise appreciate for, as well we know, so little did they appreciate it in Jesus’ time that they crucified Him. Consequently, we are not surprised that our modern world laughs at us too:
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but you do not belong to the world now that I have chosen you out of the world, and for that reason the world hates you. (John 15:19 REB)
Such opposition and disregard, however, actually serve to deepen our bond with Jesus:
Remember what I said: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they do not know the One who sent Me. (John 15:20-21)
So, though facing mockery and opposition for our faith, we have the soul-satisfying joy of being close enough to Jesus to be able to suffer something for Him in return, and, what is more, in so doing we are being endowed with the protection and guidance of His most Holy Spirit for which we give whole-hearted thanks to God for His Fatherly love.
Our confidence and joy however must never slide into complacency or pride because we are taught that no one can become truly wise without having a reverential fear of the Lord, as you heard in our first reading:
The eyes of God are on those who fear Him; He understands man’s every deed, to none does He give license to sin.
Fear of, and reverence for, the Lord is the root of wisdom and the beginning and anchor of faith. Faith however calls, in addition, for obedience -- at times going against our natural desires and inclinations; and for commitment -- at times calling us to give more, be more prominent that we would prefer; and together, such obedience and commitment gradually guide our faith to a life-warming experience and foretaste of God’s rewarding presence even here on earth, before leading us to its ultimate fulfilment of sharing in Jesus’ heavenly beatitude of eternal life and love. And yet, because worldly men loathe obedience in the intimate details of their lives above all and are committed to choosing for themselves from the many pleasures immediately available in this world rather than working for true fulfilment, therefore they ridicule faith and deny the existence or relevance of any God.
For our part, however, we who come to worship with full intent and quiet sincerity, come that we might worship and praise the God we want to learn to know and love better, and to follow the way His word traces out for us; aspiring to love with our whole being -- mind and body, heart and soul -- Him Whom we know gave and still gives His only-begotten Son for love of us and Who has, St. Paul assures in our second reading:
Prepared for those who love Him, (blessings) no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived. (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV)
We come, as the psalmist says, prepared to sow in tears if need be, so that we might reap a personal share in the Divine love and fellowship which is eternal.
Now, our Gospel reading today is difficult for us to fully understand because it comes to us from St. Matthew’s evangelisation of his own Church congregation of former Jewish believers and synagogue worshippers, and consequently it refers to and embraces issues at the back of their minds which are not part of our make-up. For that reason, today we can only follow the chief ‘headlines’ so to speak of Jesus’ words in the Gospel.
As if to prepare His disciples for what He was about to say, Jesus began by saying:
Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfil.
Therefore His disciples would need to be very careful in their understanding and observance of the Law’s commands, as He went on to say:
Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus, did not want cold, meticulous, literal observance of laws written in letters of carved stone, but an obedience that was sincere and attentive to both the letter and the spirit of God’s commands, for without the vivifying Spirit, observance of the letter only kills. He therefore went on to make clear His own deeper appreciation and understanding of the Law of Moses on certain most serious issues.
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill’.
A more prevalent, and indeed better translation, involves changing just one word:
You have heard it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’,
a translation favoured by the NRSTV (Jewish Annotated) and many others; one that presents the text as it has always been understood by the People of Israel for whom the law was established by God and to whom it was originally given by Moses; and one that has indeed been understood and proclaimed by Mother Church herself throughout the ages.
Jesus went on to give them His own fuller appreciation of this understanding of the commandment by explaining that God’s refusal to allow anyone to rob a man of his life by murder, also implied and required that no one should rob him of his reputation either, by mordent, bitter words and lies meant to harm and to hurt.
Incidentally He spoke against litigation, one of modern people’s wicked self-indulgences and society’s self-righteous failings.
He next spoke expressly and most emphatically against sexual infidelity and divorce:
You shall not commit adultery.
Here He both deepened and elevated the issue by, on the one hand going on to speak of lust of the eyes supplying for physical adultery; while, on the other hand, speaking of divorce as a procedure incurring the danger and the charge of causing a rejected wife to commit adultery. Moreover, those who went along with divorce by marrying any such divorcee would be themselves committing adultery.
Against taking oaths, He speaks in our sense of using the Lord’s name in vain, and urged simplicity and humility when speaking:
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’. Anything more is from the evil one.
Jesus knew Himself as having been most definitely sent to fulfil the Law; and so sure was He of the validity of the Law that He solemnly declared:
Amen I say to you: until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter, will pass from the Law until all things have taken place.
Therefore when, speaking of the Law and current Jewish practices, though several times He went on to add:
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors …. But I say to you;
He was in no way abolishing the Law, but teaching His Apostles, His Church, you and me, how to live and die with Him for the greater glory of God, for His Kingdom on earth, and for the true fulfilment of our brothers and sisters in the world of time.
Jesus’ main grief against the Scribes and Pharisees was:
This people honours Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Hypocrites! Your pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin; but you have overlooked the weightier demands of the Law – justice, mercy, and good faith. (Matthew 15:8; 23:23)
And we have so much of that today, People of God!
Many of those with no faith in, no acknowledgement of, God, love to take up particular social issues along with religious aspects of Christianity -- bits and pieces perhaps of remembered Catholic teaching -- and put themselves forward as the correct interpreters of those bits and pieces of religious teaching ripped out of the context of the fullness of Catholic faith (such as our ‘murder/kill’ today) and understanding them merely as words, seek to show how – without needing any God – they themselves are more successful harbingers of human fulfilment, satisfaction, and plenty than deluded believers in Jesus and spineless followers of Church doctrines and ancient traditions. And such people will then, living up to their self-reputation, go on to reject Jesus’ teaching on divorce and Mother Church’s teaching on abortion, to promote free ‘love’ of whatever sort, to play with sexuality and family, and to deny there is any natural law (e.g. man and woman made for each other) to be found in the world around us!! Thus they attempt to prove themselves (and their own doctrines) as loving and merciful (allowing and sanctioning anything men and women imagine they want or need) as well as holy (truly fulfilling for their humanity, if such a thing exists)!
Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Dear People of God, do not get embroiled with faithless people arguing about words of faith!
In the beginning:
The Lord God took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The Lord God gave man this order, ‘You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat!
Now notice how Satan started arguing about divine words:
The serpent asked the woman, ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’
God actually said to Adam as you have just heard:
‘You are free to eat from any of the trees except one’
How Satan loves to take words out of their faith context!! How the worldly-wise hate that manifestation of God’s power and authority -- over man for man’s own true good -- manifested in the one faithful word, except!
Dear fellow disciples of Jesus, how true and how beautiful, how much needed and how gratefully to be received are these following words of Our Blessed Lord:
In this world you will have trouble, (but) I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. Take heart! I have overcome the world, that in Me you may have peace. (John 15:11; 16:33 NIV)