6th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
(13 Feb 2011)
The prescribed Gospel readings for the past three weeks and for the next three weeks are all taken from The Sermon on the Mount which while presented in Matthews Gospel as one sermon is much more likely a collection of all the sermons Jesus preached. The Sermon on the Mount captures and embodies the fullness of Jesus’ teaching.
In today’s extract Jesus addresses the question of what the Jewish people called ‘The Law’. At that time the expression ‘The Law’ had a number of meanings. It referred to the Ten Commandments; it could also mean the first five books of the Bible or the whole of Jewish Scripture; or it could mean the ‘Oral’ or ‘Scribal Law’ – a collective word for the literally thousands upon thousands of rules and instructions given by the Scribes to regulate every conceivable action and activity. Jesus showed little respect for ‘Scribal Law’ that elevated the status of the Pharisees who dedicated their lives to observance while condemning the majority of the people as being unworthy of God’s love. He was often challenged and finally condemned by the scribes and Pharisees because of his non compliance with ‘Scribal Law.’
Jesus tells his disciples that he has not come to abolish the Law but rather to complete it. He’s certainly not referring to the law of the scribes. Jesus came to give the gift of salvation to all humanity and to show us that the nucleus, the core, the very heart of the definitive law of life is love; love for God and love for each other. We are made to love and to find our fulfilment in loving. The law of love takes priority over love of the law. The law of love, described in The Ten Commandments, serves as our inspiration and our life guide.
The Commandments are one of the four pillars of faith upon which the Church is built. They define God’s will for each of us in our relationship with God and with our neighbour. Obey them and eternal happiness is ours. Disobey them and suffer the consequences. The gift of salvation is offered to each of us and we each can choose to accept or reject it. It is a free choice.
The opening lines of the first reading from the book of Sirach, written about 180 years before Christ, stress the critical relevance of free will and choice. We can choose virtue or sin, fire or water, life or death.
“If you wish,” writes Sirach “you can keep the commandments; to behave faithfully is within your power.” God gives us the strength and the grace to think and act wisely but the choice is always ours.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus, within the context of the Ten Commandments, talks specifically about three areas of choice in our lives.
We can choose to be people of peace or people of violence.
It’s unlikely that any of us have committed murder but that’s not cause enough to proclaim our goodness or holiness. Jesus says that even to harbour unspoken anger in our hearts is akin to murder. He also strongly condemns anyone who insults another with rude or derogatory language…. I’m embarrassed how often insulting words so easily slip off my tongue … when driving in traffic. Even those whose actions we may detest, are worthy of our respect.
William Barclay tells the story of the Rabbi who was walking from his teacher’s house feeling very uplifted at the thought of his own scholarship, achievement and culture. An unpleasant, unsophisticated man greeted him as he passed by and the Rabbi rebuked him saying “You fool! How ugly you are! Are all the men of your town as ugly as you are?”
“That,” said the other man “I do not know. In your prayers, tell the one who made me, how ugly is the man he has made.”
The next area Jesus addresses is that of our relationships.
In our hearts and in our actions we can choose to be faithful, trustworthy and loyal or promiscuous, deceitful and fickle. The fact that we may not be in an adulterous relationship is not cause enough to plead decency or righteousness. Jesus warns against the dangers of immoral desires of the heart. Jesus is not speaking about the natural, normal desire that is part of human instinct and human nature. The word that is used in the origin Greek refers to thoughts that deliberately and intentionally stimulate illicit desires. He mentions specifically temptations presented by the eyes and the hands.
The third area Jesus refers to is that of truth and integrity.
We can choose to be honest and truthful or we can choose to be dishonest and devious.
Our ‘yes’ should mean ‘yes and our ‘no’ mean ‘no.’
In Jesus’ time it was common for merchants selling goods to use oaths to swear to and endorse the quality or the freshness of their products. It was also common practice to swear an oath when making a promise; but not all promises carried the same obligation. If one swore an oath using the name of God, the commitment was absolutely binding. If however one swore an oath by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem or by the life on one’s head, the commitment wasn’t necessarily binding. Jesus says we should not have to use the name of God or anything else to vouch for our word and our integrity.
The Ten Commandments are a gift from God; a divine blueprint of our privileged relationship as people created in the image of God.
They are not intended to make life more difficult – they are designed to assist us in making the right choices in our lives; to choose to accept the gift of salvation.
Choices initiated by love; love for God and love for our neighbour.
Deacon Les 12 Feb 2011