SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Psalms 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
A cartoon in a national magazine shows Moses with two tablets under his arm coming down a mountain. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” he says. “The good news is I got Him down to ten. The bad news is adultery is still in there.” The same could be said of today’s gospel – even in the alternate shorter form of the gospel for today, the prohibition of adultery is still included. In fact, Jesus ups the ante, and tells His listeners that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has alreadycommitted adultery with her in his heart.” This illustrates, at least in part, the approach taken by Jesus to the Jewish Law.
As was stated in last week’s reflection, “for Jesus, the law is more like a road sign. It points toward a destination, but isn’t an end in itself.” The law is meant to lead us to a closer union with the God we worship. “As Paul pointed out in Romans 7:7-25, too much attention to the law leads us into self-absorption rather than toward the loving relationships that are the purpose of human life. Valuing the law for its own sake distorts its very meaning. Jesus teaches us that aiming at the goal of the law unlocks its life-giving potential.” Indeed, the prohibition not to commit adultery, says nothing about lust, but Jesus recognizes that even lust is not “life-giving;” it is not the proper way to love, and the commandments, the Law, are intended to make us more loving people.
Jesus is clear that His ministry is not meant to “abolish” the Law. Rather His ministry is meant to fulfill the Law, and as Jesus did with adultery, so also does He do with the commandment not to kill. “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.” Jesus suggests that anger in one’s heart, in one’s words, and, most troublesome of all, in one’s actions, are all bad. 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.
Lastly, Jesus would have us be men and women of integrity and character, people who don’t “take false oaths,’ or who make promises to God that are never kept. According 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.” Jesus says “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’. Anything more is from the evil one.”
We are told by Sirach in the first reading that if we “choose to keep the commandments, they will save us.” God gives us choices, for before us are “life and death, good and evil.” We are meant to choose life, we are meant to choose what is good, and if we truly follow the commandments as God intends we shall enjoy the favor of a loving God. The following of God’s commandments is not intended to give us status, they are not intended to breed self-righteousness. The commandments are meant to point the way to a loving community for ultimately they depend on love. As Lewis B. Smedes writes, “Love turns the negative “Don’ts” into positive “Do’s.” Love turns the passive avoidance of evil into the active doing of good. Love translates the morality of “live and let live” into a morality of “love and help others live.” Law without love tells us not to kill a stranger; law with love moves us to go out of our way to help a wounded enemy. . . . The God of morality is the gracious Savior; the lawgiver of Sinai is the God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” As the psalmist tells us in today’s psalm: “You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept. Oh, that [we] might be firm in the ways of keeping [God’s] statutes,” for they will truly lead us to be the loving people God intended for us to be.