Sir 15:15-20; I Cor. 2:6-10; Mt. 5:17-37
Today’s readings challenge us to reflect on the commands of Jesus and to pay close attention to what the Law of the Lord actually commands and demands from us. This command differs from any man-made law and is filled with the wisdom that comes from God Himself. Since this Command or Law is a product of God’s love, it can only be appreciated or fulfilled through genuine love and concern for others. So, we are encouraged to faithfully obey these commands as they are the source of our salvation and life.
In today’s first reading, Ben Sirac gives us the freedom of choice through the following conditional statement: “If you wish you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power…a man or woman has life and death before them, whichever [they] like better will be given them…” The major focus here is on obeying the commands of the Lord. We are called to choose life, reminding that life and death are set before us. The choice therefore is up to us. God gives us both freedom and responsibility. The wise choose life, not death; they choose love, peace and forgiveness not hate and revenge. Choice is always before us…
The Psalmist continues in the same vein on the need for us to choose. He anchors humanity’s source of true happiness in following and obeying the Lord’s Command: “They are happy who follow God’s Law; they are happy who do his will…” In all of these, we must be very careful not to become mere fundamentalists, fanatics or even hypocrites as those Pharisees who out of the twelve laws given to them, made six hundred and thirteen other rules which they themselves could not observe. This is why we must pray with the Psalmist: “Train me to observe your law, to keep it with my heart.” We must live the Spirit of the Law and not just the letter.
In the second reading, Paul prefers to use ‘wisdom’ to refer to Christ’s Commands. If we choose God’s wisdom and live by the values of the Kingdom we become the best version of ourselves. It is a mark of wisdom to choose to obey and live by the Law of Christ. Paul contrasts this wisdom that comes from obeying Christ’s Law or Command with that from human philosophy. What this means is that the commands of the Lord transcend and supersede the words of humankind. The wisdom that comes from the Laws of God is the word of God divinely inspired, whereas, the wisdom of humans is mundane. Hence, Jesus tells us that, “what is born of the spirit is spirit and what is born of the flesh is the flesh” (John 3: 6).
In the Gospel we are still at the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has delivered it and is now applying the beatitudes to the hearers of the sermon. The verses we hear today give the basic legal principles of the sermon. They are the most controversial verses in Matthew because no major Christian church requires observance of all the precepts of the Old Testament law, both ethical and ceremonial, but only the ethical commands such as the ten commandments and the commands to love God and neighbour. In the initial encounter of the Gospel with Judaism, as well as in those primitive churches that were entirely or largely Jewish in membership, the attitude of Jesus and the Church to the Law was an urgent question. He said, “Do not imagine I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them but to complete them” The Law (Torah) had a sacredness and a saving value.
The words of Jesus, “I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.” This is not Jesus imposing the Jewish Law on the first Christians in all details. It is Jesus taking us to the heart of the Law of God, He confronts us with the terribly destructive effect unjust anger can have. He challenges us with how we look at others: do we look at them in love, or do we ultimately see them as simply for our use – sexually or otherwise? Do we take with our hands what we need, or whatever this consumer that is me happens to want at this particular moment? Is our yes really yes, and our no really no?
This is a huge challenge, and Jesus uses deliberately shocking language about tearing out our eye or cutting off our hand if they cause us to sin. Of course, we are often thoughtless rather than malicious. But that’s the point – just because my anger was thoughtless because I was in a bad mood about something else does not mean it caused any less damage to the person I confronted in whatever way. The culture around us makes it difficult to hear God’s word and to do God’s will. God is no lover of distraction, waste and mediocrity. God loves us and wants us to live to the full. May we learn like Jesus, to want to do God’s will with all our minds, hearts, souls and strength. This is the path that leads to maturity, peace and holiness.
The readings challenge us to choose constantly the values of forgiveness, fidelity and honesty. In so doing, we choose God’s wisdom which, though it may appear foolishness, in fact transforms us into the best version of ourselves. Choose to forgive someone who has hurt you, live faithfully and honestly. You will see the difference in your life, in your family and in the workplace. The choice is ours. If we are wondering how we are to listen to God and how we are to know God’s will, we have the basis for an answer already. God is certainly revealing himself to each of us and wants us to hear. We don’t have to start the conversation. Our primary task is to listen. To do this, we must learn to live an attentive, reflective life. We must stop rushing away from our hearts, for God is speaking to our hearts. If we make space for silent prayer, we will be in a position to hear and respond to the God who longs to communicate with us.
Sr. Máiréad Morrissey OP