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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
[76] Sirach 15:15-20 / Psalm 119 / 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 / Matthew 5:17-37

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The first reading from Sirach is all about choices. God takes the initiative. He creates us and reveals himself. He forgives us when we fall and puts us on the path of redemption. He calls a people to himself and gives them his law. His providence directs saving history with the leadership of patriarchs, prophets and deliverers. Ultimately he sends his Son so that we might truly see his face and know his love and mercy. Every choice of God enables and calls forth choices from us in response. You can choose to keep the commandments. You can choose to trust God. You can choose good or evil, life or death. It was such in the Garden of Eden when disobedience and purloined fruit from a forbidden tree distorted the spiritual trajectory of the whole human race. It was true in the Garden of Gethsemane when the fidelity of Christ in embracing his mission made possible the saving fruit of his flesh and blood on the dead tree of the Cross; our Lord would restore our course or orientation to God the Father. Between these two choices are all the choices of men and women from the beginning of time to the final consummation.

One of my favorite biblical passages (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) teaches a similar message:

“I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.”

Our sins affect us but they also touch others. They hurt our families and the community. Disharmony and iniquity is also passed down from one generation to the next. If we choose life and fidelity then we can help break the chain. As Christians we know that Jesus is the one who has interceded so as to help us exchange an inheritance of suffering, sin and death for one of healing, forgiveness and life.

Willing obedience in charity disposes us to the choice or providence of God to forgive and to save us. The choice to trust God is never made in vain, even if we fail to understand his response. Trust is the opening of our hands to receive the gifts of God. His ultimate gift is life, not just physical life, but a share in the eternal life merited by God’s Son. Closed hands— faces turned away— hardened hearts— such cannot receive the Lord’s life-giving graces. The choice has always been the same: life or death, good or evil. What are the choices we face in the modern world? It may be that many decisions we make have no definite right or wrong. We decide to go to college or a trade school or straight to work. We decide on an occupation or vocation to pursue. We decide where we might live and the lifestyle we want to pursue. We make decisions about friends and relationships. Some decisions have only immediate weight; others like marriage or a vocation have a lasting gravity. Choices are also connected to promises. God promises to restore a fallen people in the book of Genesis. That promise is fulfilled in the Gospel with Christ. Just as God keeps his promises so should we. Remaining true to promises is a statement about commitment and one’s depth of character. Promises can cost us. This truth is realized every time we look at a crucifix. It is the meaning behind our Lord’s summons to take up the cross and to follow him.

The choices we make have a role in defining us and our relationship with God and each other. Those who are war mongers, violent, bigoted, liars, greedy, lustful, jealous, and self-absorbed have chosen sin. While we are all sinners, some are consumed by their iniquity. Those who are deceptive try to escape their promises. Those who are adulterers have broken their promises to a beloved and to God. Those who are narcissistic have no room in themselves to properly love others or to worship God. There are many who make excuses for their sins or have beseeched the demonic to cover up their wrongs and so invoke a spiritual blindness. We often see this, even in people who say they care. About this they lie to themselves. They forget that ours is a jealous God and they substitute the demands of a worldly reign over the kingdom of Christ. Forfeiting freedom in Christ, they choose to become the property of corporations or movements or parties or the devil or what-have-you.

They enable as lawful the destruction of unwanted children or the neglect and castigation of the unsightly poor or the persecution of feared ethnic groups and immigrants. Often they will substitute apparent goods, like a short-sighted concern for women or the need to conserve limited resources or the preservation of national security and identity. The Church is ridiculed for trying to set guideposts to alternative choices, particularly those that safeguard human dignity, the sanctity of life and marital fidelity between men and women. We live at a time, when choices mired in selfishness and sin, are rationalized as lawful liberties and rights. There is even the blasphemy that God would desire or bless murder and sexual deviation. The first reading is clear, “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”

Vector Cartoon of Nun standing with ruler ready to strike.

The responsorial emphasizes how God blesses those who “observe his decrees” and “follow the law of the Lord.” Given that a quarter of the U.S. population currently does not believe in God and many others only go through the motions, it is no wonder that so many dismiss what God commands in Scripture and in the preaching of the Church. Take God out of the picture and divine positive law would be reduced to the impoverished dictates of flawed human beings, capricious and changeable. Those who have embraced atheism or the other extreme (the occult) have substituted something else for the true God, breaking the first commandment. Those who curse and take the Lord’s name in vain have violated the second. Those who take no time out for rest and prayer, only going to Mass when they feel like it, have obviously forgotten the third commandment. Neglect God and we do not know how to love and how to treat others. Parents should be honored but how can they be so treated when they are not honorable, failing in the faith formation of their children and in substituting materialism and pornography for the presence of the Lord in their homes. There goes the fourth. Hatred, violence and abuse are often visited in the family but many also promote abortion, all of which are sins against the fifth commandment. Broken marriages and divorce is widespread. Couples cohabitate and commit acts of fornication and/or adultery— so much for the sixth commandment. Many take what they can get and feel that it is okay so long as they are not caught. Goodbye to number seven, “thou shall not steal.” As for lying, sometimes it seems that people have lost the ability to give a straight answer. Lying to protect ourselves has become a widespread social habit. That is the collapse of commandment eight. Coveting another’s spouse has become the lucrative industry of porn in movies, magazines, on television and the internet. This lust devalues human beings. With the desecration of commandment nine there is only number ten left. The dominoes keep falling. Coveting a neighbor’s goods is what drives our rampant consumerism and materialism. Few are content with what they have and they resent those who have more. There is not a commandment of the Decalogue that is left undisturbed.

The selection from Corinthians asserts that the wisdom of God is not known by the world. How we live in the world betrays whether we know and love the Lord. The violation of the commandments is more than the breaking of rules; it is a failure to love and trust the person of Christ. There is an intimate connection between human iniquity and our participation in the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. Indeed, in the Gospel he asserts that our place in the kingdom will be measured out according to how we keep the commandments and enable others to do so. Jesus says that he has come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. Our Lord raises the bar. He tells his listeners that their holiness must surpass the scribes and Pharisees. When it comes to the fifth commandment, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, you shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment . . . .” We recall the first murder of Abel by Cain. Killing is way too easy for us. We are a race of murderers. Indeed, our sins target the Son of God for execution. When it comes to the sixth commandment, the Lord tells us that just to look at women with lust would constitute adultery. Divorce, tolerated by the Mosaic Law, is forbidden as associated with adultery. Referencing the eighth commandment, Jesus finally urges against any deception. This last reference is important because Christians will be called to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. Any perjury would be an offense against God and undermine the truth. Each and every sin in the life of a Christian disciple constitutes a falsehood or hypocrisy or lie. We pretend to be something we are not. Jesus would have us as authentic witnesses to his saving work and mercy.

This homily is largely about the choices that we make. There can be no passive discipleship. While it might sound contradictory, the decision not to choose is a choice, and not a good one. While the devil would prefer us engaged in active iniquity; he would settle with inactivity. If we are not proactive with the Lord then we stand in opposition to him. The culpability of sin falls upon both its immediate agents and those who allow evil and ignorance to spread unopposed. There come times in the lives of believers when we must take a stand or fall. We cannot remain spectators along the road to Calvary. Any who would belong to Jesus must eventually take up his own cross and follow where the Master has gone before us. This move to discipleship should not be hesitant or without enthusiasm. We do not embrace suffering and death for its own sake. Rather, the believer delights in the opportunity to witness for the Lord. We seek transformation by the blessings or benedictions of Christ.

Jesus has conquered the curse that we might receive the blessings of God (Matthew 5:3-12) — benedictions that transform our identity from children of wrath to adopted children of a loving Father.

  • We are refashioned as “poor in spirit,” finding our true treasure in the kingdom.
  • Weeping over our sins we are given divine “comfort.”
  • We turn away from violence and seek to be the “meek” that trust in God.
  • We are confident that our “hunger and thirst for righteousness” will one day be satisfied.
  • We seek “clean hearts” washed by the blood from the Paschal Lamb.
  • We invoke the blessing of the Prince of Peace that we might be “peacemakers” in a world that needs to see the loving face of God and know the brotherhood of man.

Believers find joy in standing in right relationship with God. They are given a share in eternal life and eternal joy. It is this joy that propels the long legacy of martyrs to receive the blessing of “persecution for the sake of righteousness.” This world is passing. We set our sights on the kingdom of heaven.

One Response

  1. No Sunday is “ordinary: nor will ever be! This past Sunday was Sexagesima Sunday! Always was and always will be!!!!
    Sunday is the sacred day of the week and special. And, vigil is just that, a preparation for something special. It is NOT special within itself!!!!

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