Thursday, February 10, 2011

But I Say To You

Reflections on the Readings
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 13, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

But I Say To You

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ...but I say to you..."

Is there something different about the Christian life? If we take Jesus seriously, and we should, righteousness is more than what the eye can see. I grew up in the holiness tradition within the Pentecostal church. While there was not a neglect about the interior life, there was a lot said about the appearance of holiness. Jesus says that the righteousness of the heart is different than the righteousness of appearances. Jesus condemned such claims of holiness in describing the Pharisees and the scribes, the official interpreters of the Law, as 'whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.' (Mt. 23:27)

Jesus states that except our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we can not enter into the kingdom of heaven. It's the scribes and the Pharisees who 'love to be seen by men.' They preach a good message, but they don't practice what they preach. They seek the place of honor at feasts, and they occupy the best seats at synagogue and for a pretense they make long prayers.

So when Jesus invites us to live righteously, he does so as an authority on the law and the prophets. Jesus came not to abolish neither the law nor the prophets. In fact, Jesus lifts up the commandments and gives them their fullest meaning. Indeed the commandments will endure as long as heaven and earth remain!

The second reading describes the deeper meaning of God's wisdom. It is the Spirit that helps us to plumb the depths of God: Whereas it does not naturally occur to the ear, the eye, or even the heart, God sends his Spirit to teach us. In today's gospel, there are four things Jesus speaks about in understanding the deeper meaning of the law of the Lord; a law that is perfect, converting the soul. This is why Jesus speaks so clearly about God's word from the days of old having ever new and interior meaning for our souls.

Jesus lifts up the ancient words and then says, this is what these words mean. There are four such sayings today, and two more next week. We can say three things about these ancient words today.

First, let's look at how we relate to one another. Murder and violent crimes get top billing in the media. What does not get reported is the anger and hatred we can hold in our hearts toward one another. And the resulting finger pointing and angry words and name calling only deepen the rift between us. You see, we are made in the image of God, and it matters whenever we deface that image with the graffiti of judgmental words and angry sentiments. To us Jesus exclaims, "Leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled to your brother, your children, your wife, and your neighbor." James the Apostle admonishes us to be 'quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.' (James 1:19)

Another defacing way to treat someone is to see them as some piece of flesh. The power of pornography is driven by humanity's propensity to lust. Every temptation driven by the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. (James 1:14, 15) The fire that rages in the mind overtaken by an impure imagination is never satisfied until it has completely consumed its victim; marriages today are being devoured by the unquenchable flames of lust.

But the pleasures of sin are only for a little while. When a man searches his heart, examines his conscience, and makes a good and sincere confession he receives the refuge of mercy. In the sacrament of reconciliation is where grace that is greater than our sin is dispensed; the gracious eyes of God are on those who fear him, he is mighty and all seeing. (Sirach 15:15-20) Jesus uses the hyperbole of plucking out the right eye or cutting off the right hand to remind us that sin is real and can only be dealt with for what it is. And the sooner we confess it the sooner we are free; for whom the Son sets free is free indeed.

Second, marriage is forever. At least that's what Jesus says. It really is till death do us part. Through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, you're in it for the long haul. The dead end of a trial run to this holy sacrament is just that - a dead end. Living together before the "I do's," cheapens what is supposed to be alive with all of the wonder and mystery when two become one. It is in the love Christ has for his Church that a man understands how he is to love his wife. This love a man has for his wife is protective and sacrificial - a love for the other that is reciprocated with the other self - without which two will become little else than two living in the same house.

No one grows tired of hearing of wedding anniversaries. Whether a young couple is celebrating their first year or an elderly husband and wife is celebrating their 75th; its a love story that never grows old. And we should celebrate these milestones for what they are - an amazing story of grace and love.

Last, Jesus reminds us that the simple truth is sufficient. Just to be able to have a believable conversation today is as refreshing as the first rains of spring. Who can you trust? The one who does what he says he will do. Who do you believe? Well, the one who loves the truth, lives by the truth, and when he speaks, he speaks the truth - not some mealy mouth gibberish to appease you and to be done with you.

Jesus helps us today to see with better understanding, with deeper clarity the interior application of the law and the prophets. It is Christ who calls us to be faithful and fruitful in keeping the commandments. As we pray over God's words to us, they become a light to our feet, a true and unerring guide to the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

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