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Reflections for the VI Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the sixth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the readings challenge us to choose freely and wisely in order to observe the laws given us by a loving and caring God.

Sir 15:15-20, I Cor 2:6-10, Mt 5:17-37

Introduction: God revealed His laws through Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament and through His own Son, Jesus, in the New Testament. For the Israelites, the Torah was not a set of laws, but the instructions or teachings intended to promote the holiness and wholeness of each believer. It was the revealed will of a caring God for His Chosen People, those with whom He had made His covenant.

Homily starter anecdote: Passion and Reason: The Greek philosopher, Plato, four hundred years before Christ, wrote of two horses in the human heart, Passion and Reason. Passion is the wild untamed horse with boundless strength and energy, but very hard to control and direct. Reason is the tamed horse, accustomed to the reins, disciplined in stride and responding to directions. A chariot hitched to a pair of Passions might go anywhere but would surely crash or overturn before long. However, a charioteer who selects a pair of Reasons will be too cautious and fearful to go anywhere worthwhile. But if Passion and Reason can be paired, then the powerful energy is harnessed, and the journey of life can be enjoyed. – The teaching of Jesus strongly affirms the need of rules, but rules are to be understood as a means to the end, which is a life of spiritual strength and commitment. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

 Scripture lessons summarized:  The first reading, from Sirach, contains the clearest statement in the Old Testament concerning the God-given freedom of the human will and exonerating God from all responsibility for evil in the world. “If you choose, you can keep the commandments . . . before you are life and death, whichever you choose shall be given you.”  In the second reading, Paul challenges his Corinthian believers to appreciate the wisdom of God’s saving plan for His people, a plan hidden for ages but now revealed by the Spirit. In today’s Gospel, while challenging his disciples to live a life of justice and righteousness which would exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus sets forth his own position with regard to the Law given through Moses by providing  a new interpretation and meaning for the old laws. Jesus shows us how to go to the root of the commandments about murder, adultery, divorce, taking foolish oaths, retaliation and love of neighbor. 

First reading, Sirach 15:15-20 explained: The book of Sirach, one of the seven “Deuterocanonical” books, was written very late in Old Testament times. The author lived in a cosmopolitan, mostly pagan, community that did not support his religious values. Hence, his book was intended for Diaspora, Jews who were exposed to the pervasive influence of a Hellenistic culture which believed that humans were helpless pawns in the hands of the gods.   He asserted that there should be no compromise with the prevailing culture when it came to keeping God's law. God never forces us to do good or evil. It is our free choice to obey or disobey God’s laws, and we are responsible for the serious consequences of our choices. This is the clearest statement in all of the canonical and deuterocanonical OT writings on the subject of human free will.  This reading and the Gospel lend solemnity and authority to each other. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 119), declares, ”Blessed are they who observe His  decrees, who seek Him with all their heart” (v 2)

The second reading, 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 explained. Paul here contrasts the wisdom of the prevailing Greek culture with the wisdom of God, advising Christians to seek true wisdom in God’s revelation instead of indulging in endless discussions of Greek philosophy. God in His wisdom has saved us through Jesus and prepared for those love Him, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard and what has not entered the human heart.”

Gospel exegesis: Jesus came to give the Torah its full meaningIn Jesus’ time, the Law was understood differently by different groups of the Jews to be 1) The Ten Commandments, 2) The Pentateuch, 3) The Law and the Prophets, or 4) The oral (Scribal) and the written Law. The Jews believed that the Torah (Law given through Moses), was the eternal and unchangeable Self-revelation of God. Jesus, and later Paul, considered the oral Law as interpreted by the scribes a heavy burden on the people and criticized it, while honoring the Mosaic Law and the teachings of the prophets. Today’s Gospel passage, from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” presents Jesus as giving the highest compliments to the Mosaic Law, although he himself would be condemned later and crucified as a Lawbreaker. Jesus says that, as the word of God, the Old Testament has a Divine authority, and it deserves total respect. Its moral precepts are to be respected because they are, for the most part, specific, Divine-positive promulgations of the natural law. For the Scribes and the Pharisees, the external fulfillment of the precepts of the Mosaic Law was a guarantee of a person's salvation. Jesus rejects this view in today’s Gospel passage, taken from the “Sermon on the Mount.”  For Jesus, justification, or sanctification, is a grace from God. Man’s role is one of cooperating with that grace by being faithful to it. Jesus then outlines the new moral standards for his disciples. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that he did not come to destroy the Torah but to bring it to perfection by bringing out its inner meaning, because Jesus Himself is the ultimate Self-revelation of God, the Lawgiver. Jesus also explains the real meaning of three Mosaic laws concerning murder, adultery and false oaths.

Respect life in all its stages, in words and deed: Jesus explains that the fifth commandment means respecting life in all its stages by honoring others in words and deeds.  This means that we have to control our anger because it is the rawest, strongest and most destructive of human emotions. Describing three stages of anger and the punishment each deserves; Jesus advises his disciples not to get angry in such a way that they sin. 1)  Anger in the heart (“brief stage of insanity” Cicero), has two forms: a) a sudden, blazing flame of anger which dies suddenly. b) a surge of anger which boils inside and lingers so that the heart seeks revenge and refuses to forgive or forget. Jesus prescribes trial and sentencing by the Village Court of Elders. 2) Anger in speech: Using words which are insulting (“raka“=“fool”), or damaging to the reputation (“moros” meaning a person of loose morals). Jesus says that such an angry one should be sent to the Sanhedrin or Jewish religion’s Supreme Court for trial and sentencing. 3) Anger in action: Sudden outbursts of uncontrollable anger often result in physical assault or abuse. Jesus says that such anger deserves hellfire as its punishment. In short, Jesus teaches that long-lasting anger is bad, contemptuous speech or destroying someone’s reputation is worse and harming another physically is the worst.

Jesus’ teaching on sexual sins:  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines a new moral code for his followers, which is different from the Mosaic moral code. Jesus insists that adultery, the violation of the sixth commandment, is also committed through willfully generated evil and impure thoughts and desires which are willingly sustained in the mind. Our hands become agents of sin according to what we touch and how we touch, in lust or greed or violence. Our eyes become agents of sins according to what they look at. When Jesus recommends mutilation of eyes and hands he is not speaking literally, because we have more sins than we have body-parts. Besides, even if all offending parts were removed, our minds -- the source of all sins – would still be intact, causing us to sin by thoughts and desires.  So,  Jesus teaches us that, just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body, like an infected gall bladder, inflamed appendix, etc., in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us to commit grave sin or which leads to spiritual death. Hence, these warnings are actually about our attitudes, dispositions, and inclinations.  Jesus recommends that our hands become agents of compassion, healing and comfort   and that our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty around us.

Jesus’ clear teaching on divorce: According Matthew’s version, adultery is the only ground for sanctioning divorce. Based on the NT teachings given in Mk 10:1-12, Mt. 5:31-32; Mt. 19:3-9; Luke 16:18; and 1 Cor 7:10-11, the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament involving both a sacred and legal contract between a man and a woman and, at the same time, is a special covenant with the Lord.  “Divorce is also a grave offense against the natural law.  Besides, it claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death ….  Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society” (CCC # 2384, 2385).

Be men and women of integrity and characterAccording to the teachings of the Jewish rabbis, the world stands fast on truth, justice and peace; hence, liars, slanderers, scoffers and hypocrites will not enter Heaven. The rabbis classified two types of oaths as offensive to God: 1) frivolous oaths using God’s name to support a false statement, because this violates the second commandment and 2) evasive oaths using words like HeavenJerusalem, or my head, because God is everywhere, and He owns everything. Jesus interprets the Mosaic Law on oaths to mean that we should be righteous men and women of integrity and character.  If one is honest in his or her words and deeds, there is no need for one to support his or her statements and transactions with oaths or swearing. How forceful are honest words! (Job 6:25). An oath is a solemn invocation of God (So help me, God!) to bear witness to the truth of what one asserts to be the case or to the sincerity of one’s undertakings in regard to future actions. It is necessary and admissible to ask God’s help in the discharge of an important social duty (e.g., President’s oath of office), or while bearing witness in a court of law (“I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth … “So, help me, God.”). Jesus teaches,  “Say yes when you mean yes and say no when you mean no” (Mt 5:37). That is, he invites us to live in truth in every instance and to conform our thinking, our words and our deeds to the truth.

Life messages: 1) We need to obey God’s Law, appreciating its basic principles: In obeying God’s law and Church law, let us remember the two basic principles on which these laws are based, namely, the principle of reverence and the principle of respect. In the first four of the Ten Commandments we are asked to reverence God, His holy name and His holy day and to reverence our father and mother. The next set of commandments instructs us to respect life, one’s personal integrity and good name, the legal system, another’s property and another's spouse. Our obedience to the laws must be prompted by our love for God and our gratitude to God for His blessings.

2) We need to forgive, forget and move toward reconciliation as soon as possible.  St. Paul advises us “Be angry (righteous anger) but do not sin” (Eph 4:26). When we keep anger in our spirit, we are inviting physical illnesses, like hypertension, and mental illnesses, like depression. Let us relax and keep silence when we are angry, wait before acting on our anger, give it time to detoxify and cool off, pray for God’s strength for self-control, and give the Holy Spirit time to help us see the event through Jesus’ eyes instead of through anger’s eyes.

3) We need to be true to God, to ourselves and to others. Let us allow God’s word of truth to penetrate our minds and hearts and to form our consciences, making us men and women of integrity. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

13 February 2020, 11:16