6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)

by | Feb 23, 2020

God revealed His laws to His Chosen People through Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament, and through His own Son, Jesus, in the New Testament. Today He challenges us to choose freely either to observe the laws He gave to us or not. Yes they are heavy, but his salvation awaits those who choose them with courage.

The book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) was written by Ben Sirach (Sage) to his co-diaspora Jews who were struggling with the Hellenistic cultural influence (Athenian-Greece); Pagan cosmopolitan community who care less about religious values. And there was a diffused belief that humans are nothing but beings in the hands of the gods, in other words their actions are determined and controlled by the gods (this is an influence of stoic philosophy that held the doctrine of determinism-“man has no free-will. His actions are determined”). Ben Sirach writes to his fellow Jews that the Commandment the Lord has given them was out of love, and He has given them the free-will to choose either to act or not to act on the commandment. But more importantly, he affirmed that keeping the commandment attracts God’s blessing: “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him…” (v.19). Finally, Sirach counters the idea that the actions of men are determined by saying: “The Lord has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and He has not given any one permission to sin” (v.20).

In consonance with the wisdom book of Sirach in the first reading, Paul also exhorts the Christians living in the metropolitan city of Corinth to seek the wisdom of God against the rising influence of Greek philosophy; for God’s salvation cannot be understood through human reasoning but through the wisdom of God made manifest in Christ; “For what the eye has not seen, and the ear has not heard, nor the heart of man conceived, that is what God has prepared for those who love him” (v. 9).

In today’s gospel Matthew presents Jesus as a guarantor of the Law, and equally shows him as a perfection of the law: “I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Matthew equally presents him as the “Eternal wisdom” of God due to his manner of teaching the Torah. That is, he was not just interpreting the Torah but he was teaching it with authority: “You have heard that it is said…but I tell you…” “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The scribes and the Pharisees were notable for their strict observance of the Law. Hence, Jesus did not doubt their righteousness as related to this, but his problem with them is “the publicity and the showcasing of their righteousness.” Such tendency is to make the Law a thing of Pride and to attract public attention and praises; but then, Jesus speaks of the righteousness that springs from the heart (being truly righteous) and not righteousness in “the look” (appearance).

Why did Jesus associate the fifth commandment, “You shall not kill” with the sin of anger? He simply reminds his audience about the destructive tendency of anger. Anger is an expression of displeasure over a particular situation. Jesus is not telling them not to be angry because that would be an unrealistic teaching and a conscientious denial of natural tendency. On the contrary, he calls their attention on the need of self-control and the mastery of oneself. Anger becomes a sin liable of condemnation when it ends up destroying the dignity of the other. Anger cannot be justified when abusive words are used on the other. How many people have regretted their murder act because of uncontrolled anger?

The sin of adultery does not just happen. It often starts from somewhere, and that is lust. Lust is an inordinate craving for or indulgence of, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation. The wrongfulness of lust is that it searches for sexual satisfaction in an illegal or unrighteous way, (outside wedlock) be it adultery or fornication. The Church classifies it as a capital sin because it engenders or leads to other sin (CCC.1867). Jesus simply tells his audience to tame the perverse carnal desire that often inhabits them. He reminds them that it is easy to say that they are not adulterers because they have not had intercourse with another’s wife or husband without knowing that they have often done it. Hence, adultery and fornication are not limited to physical contact but also distant lustful desire of the other. We have often been victim of this.

“If your right eye or your right hand would lead you to sing cut it off…” Why didn’t Jesus simply say if your eye or your hand without such specification about the right hand and eye? Here we are dealing with a rabbinic tradition. the glorious nature of the right side was so much exalted in the Old Testament (Job 23:9; Jer. 1:4; Ps 14:9; 1 Kgs 2:19; 1 Sam. 11:2; Zech. 11:17; Lev. 14:14.16; Lev. 7:32; Gen. 48:17-19; Ex. 15:6), and Jesus is depicted as seated on the right hand of the Father (Mk 16:19; Acts 1:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 1:3).

The rabbinic tradition disqualified left-handed priests from performing meal offering. But far from discriminating the usefulness of the left, Jesus’ teaching simply means that it is better to sacrifice that which is most essential to you (that is the idea of the right) than to lose the kingdom of God. He was not in any way referring to a mutilation of one’s eye or hand, rather he was simply warning about the seriousness of sin and its destructive tendencies. The Jewish laws which were highly patriarchal found the justification for divorce from the text of Deuteronomy (24:1-3). And the MISHNA (which is the oral tradition and in fact the first major work of the rabbinic literature) gave room for the husband to divorce his wife at will. However, this gave rise to two schools of thought:

SHAMMAI: They Justified divorce strictly on the basis of sexual immorality.
HILLEL: For them the husband can divorce his wife for whatever reason as long as he finds her actions displeasing to him. And today Jesus seems to support the school of SHAMMAI when he says, “except in the case of unchastity” (Mat. 5:32). This passage has often been misunderstood to mean that Jesus came to support divorce on strict case of unchastity. But on the contrary, Jesus did not in any way give room for divorce. He actually affirmed the indissolubility of marriage. That is why he says: “Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (v.32). This simply means that on no account should a man or woman be exonerated from their marital bond once the union has been legitimately sealed. This is the teaching of the church. This is the original plan of God in Genesis 2:24.

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 Heaven, Jerusalem, or my head, because God is everywhere, and He owns everything (Gen. 42:15; 1 Sam. 15:21; 1 Sam. 20:12; Lev. 19:12). Jesus interprets the Mosaic Law on oaths to mean that a disciple should have an integrity of character: “Say yes when you mean yes and say no when you mean no” (Mt 5:37). Thus, it is an invitation to live in truth in every instance and to conform ones thought, his words and his deeds to the truth without compromise.

Fr. A. Francis HGN