Our choice: Life or death?
This book of Sirach is a collection of moral maxims compiled by a sage in Jerusalem in the early second century B.C. It is written for Greek-speaking Jews living outside their homeland. Sirach hopes to show the superiority of Israel’s scriptures in a time of growing interest in Greek philosophy.
In today’s verses, Sirach presents obedience to God’s law as the road that leads to life, and rejection of his commandments as the way that leads to death. The choice is ours. Of course, when we come to the New Testament, we will learn that believers receive God’s grace to enable them to live his way of love.
If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. — Sir 15:15-16 (NAB)
Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
These verses from the longest psalm in the Psalter celebrate the blessings of living one’s life according to the law of God.
This Psalm praises God for giving such splendid laws and instruction for people to live by. The author glorifies and thanks God for the Torah, prays for protection from sinners enraged by others’ fidelity to the law, laments the cost of obedience, delights in the law’s consolations, begs for wisdom to understand the precepts, and asks for the rewards of keeping them. (Source: NAB notes).
“Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes,that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.” — Ps 119:33-34 (NAB)
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
God’s wisdom is contrasted with human wisdom. The mature believer knows and embraces God’s wisdom which, in a way, is a mystery. It is private knowledge attained only through revelation and faith. It is wisdom revealed to us through Jesus and available to us as we live in the Spirit.
We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. — 1 Cor 2:6-8 (NAB)
Jesus purifies the Law and seeks to raise it to a new level
Matthew, a Jewish convert to Christianity, is writing to a Christian community made up of mostly Jews and some Gentiles. He seeks to help his fellow Jews to see that Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to bring it to fulfillment―to purify it and to offer an authentic interpretation of the Law. Matthew presents Jesus as One who brings the Law to a new level. He shows Jesus respecting the Law but also going beyond the Law when he says time and again, “You have heard it said…but I say to you….” Jesus does to the Law what the “cleaners” have done to Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel―removing years of grime to reveal the true beauty and glory of the master’s work. Today’s Gospel gives us three instances where Jesus purifies the Law and seeks to raise it to a new level.
Murder, anger and reconciliation. Jesus says, “You teach that murder is wrong. I agree. But have you forgotten that rage and anger, the root causes of murder, are also wrong?” Jesus wants his listeners to reflect on what provokes the commission of murder. As someone once said, “Murder begins in the seething heart that is not cooled.” Then Jesus proceeds to condemn abusive language and name- calling which flow from an angry heart. This violation of the Law is so bad that it deserves hell. Jesus goes on to say that reconciliation is more important to God than sacrifice. Offering gifts to God is useless if we ignore wounded relationships with family members or friends. In our reconciliation efforts, we must leave no stone unturned.
Adultery and lust. A double standard existed in the Old Testament when it came to fidelity in marriage. In uncovering the true meaning of this commandment, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by stating that adultery is much more than just physical. It is primarily a matter of the heart. Adultery originates with a lustful thought or look. “The thought is the father of the deed.” By condemning adulterous looks and thoughts towards a woman, Jesus elevates the woman’s status to that of her male counterpart. Neither man nor woman should be seen or treated as a sexual object. Jesus is inviting his disciples to view women in a whole new way.
Divorce. This is perhaps the most controversial of the issues addressed in today’s Gospel. Over the centuries, various denominations have interpreted Jesus’ teaching on divorce in different ways. The fact is that his condemnation of divorce is a monumental step forward since, prior to his time, a husband could divorce his wife for little or no reason. Here, Jesus is saying that divorcing one’s spouse is wrong. By doing so, Jesus is giving women a whole new security, and he challenges the men of his day to have a whole new respect for women. Marriage until death is affirmed as the Gospel norm.
Oaths. Considering the ways of the world, it would seem that Jesus’ approach is totally impractical when it comes to telling the truth. He exhorts us to simply tell the truth, whatever the circumstance. “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” We are bound to tell the truth not only when we take an official oath to do so but as our life principle, i.e., consistently and without exception.
Commenting on today’s Gospel, William Byron, S. J., writes:
Let’s take these three goals—avoiding anger, abolishing lustful desire, and committing oneself to honest speech—and consider not only how much our personal morality would improve if we adopted them as personal objectives, but also how much better off our world would be if all its inhabitants made these goals their own. The commitment to anger avoidance would mean non-violence in our midst and hence an end to war. The commitment to purity of heart would mean an end to pornography, prostitution, sexual exploitation, and marital infidelity. The commitment to truth-telling would mean integrity in business, government, and all other areas of human interaction. What a social revolution that would be! What a better world we would have!
(Excerpt from The Word Proclaimed, A Homily for Every Sunday of the Year; Year A by William J. Byron, SJ, Copyright © 2013 by William J. Byron. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahawah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.)
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.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. — Mt 5:17-18 (NAB)
1. Turn to the person next to you and share what word/s or image/s in the readings caught your attention. Did they comfort or challenge you or touch you in some way?
2. What are some characteristics of a truly wise person?
3. In your opinion, why do people use abusive language and name-calling in their conversation? How can this downward trend be avoided?
4. What are some keys to faithfulness in marriage? How does one remain chaste in mind, word and deed in a heavily sexualized culture?
5. What can help us to always speak the truth and avoid saying what we think others want to hear?
6. Name one thing today’s Gospel says to us that we disciples of Jesus need to heed and act on
Call to Action
The temptation to misuse the lovely gift of speech that turns into impure words and deeds is very prevalent today. This week, ask Jesus to help you to say ‘No’ to all forms of temptation.
God, you gave us the gift of speech to praise you and lift up others. Help me to say ‘No’ to all forms of malicious speech, and help me to be chaste in mind, word and deed.
Instruct us, O Lord, in your ways. Free us to seek you, even when you ask from us more than we think we are able to give. Help us to be an example that invites others to you rather than leads them away. Amen.
Sunday Reflection Excerpts
EXCERPT — Our computers never make a mistake because they’re programmed for flawless obedience. That makes them very dangerous in situations that require prudence. Understanding and fulfilling the purpose of the law differentiates us from robots. Only human beings can interact in a way that leads all parties concerned to become more human. When it comes to the law, that’s the point!
NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER – Mary M. McGlone, CSJ
EXCERPT — Today’s readings build upon last week’s focus on expectations. Living the Christian life requires a deep sense of responsibility and a desire to go beyond the minimum of the law. Spiritual maturity and integrity lies somewhere between deadening legalism and a casual approach that mocks the rules and takes pride in “getting away with it.” We are given the freedom to act responsibly. We pray for the wisdom to discern what that means and to live accordingly.
NCR SUNDAY RESOURCES – Joan DeMerchant
EXCERPT — Pope Francis has indicated more than once. “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them,” he wrote in his apostolic exhortation on the family (Joy of Love #37). The same principle applies to liturgical laws and rules, too. The mature pastor or planner takes time to understand the reason for a law or rule and then strives to fulfill its purpose, even if at times that means adapting the law to a present situation. This is very different from simply ignoring any rules we don’t like, as it is very different from unthinking obedience to every rubric.
NCR SUNDAY RESOURCES – Fr. Lawrence E. Mick
EXCERPT — The Gospel reading today is from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1–7:29). Matthew depicts Jesus ascending a mountain to interpret Jewish laws. There are obvious parallels to Moses receiving and proclaiming laws at Mount Sinai. Today’s excerpt focuses on murder, adultery, divorce and the taking of oaths… In these reinterpretations of laws, Jesus calls on his followers to live good lives. The Gospel requires us to carefully evaluate and glean the elements that are most helpful for fostering positive relationships with one another and with God.
AMERICA MAGAZINE – Jamie Waters
EXCERPT — How different would our own Eucharists be if we took Jesus seriously? The resentments we hold against our parents, our children, our spouses, and our neighbors would have to dissolve before we would approach the altar, lest we receive the sacrament unworthily. Perhaps that is why our Communion is aptly prefaced by the sign of peace. Just as we ask God, “look not on our sins, but on the faith of your church,” so also we who have sinned against each other must see with the eyes of faith and forgive.
SUNDAY WEB SITE – John Kavanaugh, SJ
EXCERPT — The danger is that we think that what Jesus is saying in the gospel does not apply to us today. As Christians and Catholics we have the ten commandments, the scripture and the teachings of the Church. We are called to live by these teachings in our daily lives. But, we also need to be aware that it isn’t just matter of ‘do’s and don’ts.’ We have to be careful that we don’t lose the heart of what we are called to believe and live by. Like the Pharisees we are not to reduce the teachings of our faith or belief to the bare minimum or just the basics.
WEEKLY REFLECTIONS – THE OBLATES – Br. Michael Moore, OMI