Reflections on the Readings
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 16, 2014 - Year A
The Choices Before Us
"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." - Jesus
The readings before us today remind me of a G. K. Chesterton line. He wrote, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has be found difficult and left untried."
Jesus exalts the meaning and purpose of the commandments. Anyone who relaxes the intent and scope and depth of the commandments and teaches others to be skeptical of the high calling of God shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But those who embrace the commandments, and measure their lives by that standard, and seek to influence others to embrace the same gift of life shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Least or great. There we have it. What will you choose?
Or fire and water as in the first reading. Another choice. Purification or drowning in the rapids of loose living. Every time we make a confession, the priest reminds us that the Holy Spirit is sent among us for the forgiveness of sins. The precious Holy Spirit connects us to the deep life of forgiveness in God so that we might live and not die. This is profoundly personal and intense for our God is a consuming fire; a fire of love that is both light and life.(Hebrews 12:29) As we place ourselves in God's presence our soul engages in a love we were meant to have; a purifying grace that is amazing.
I have some experience in raising children. Everyone one with children will identify with what I say. Every child pushes the envelope. They see how close to the line they can get without going over it. At first it's amusing; then it gets serious. It gets serious because the child gets older and pushes up against lines that distinguish where life ends and death takes over. Moms are especially adept at pointing out the facts like when they ask in an exasperated fashion, "How fast were you driving?!"
Life and death; good and evil. These are real choices. Like where we let the mouse in our hand take us on the world wide web. Read that as in a 'spider's web.' What do we let our eyes see? Whatever is leading us away from life and the life as we were meant to have is not a good choice.
We are living in a time when increasingly it is made clear that distinctions are not cool. So that means the readings today may be more than a little challenging. Fidelity in mind and heart and in life and love is a foreign concept in some parts of the movie industry. Our throwaway culture discards the life of the unborn, the life of the infirm, and the life of our elderly. I read recently that in Russia there are more abortions than there are live births. I graduated from High School in 1973, the same year abortion was legalized in America. Since 1973, almost 55 million babies have been aborted in the United States of America.
It's like a demonic spirit of death has captured the imagination of the proud and haughty. What we are seeing is the diminution of the true, the good, and the beautiful. The permanent things are being discarded and a new and unfamiliar reality is parading in a mask of superiority. There is an awkward and belligerent new wave of evil that suggests that the commandments are too cumbersome and out dated. And the reality of unsound reasoning and subsequent choices is creating a veritable tsunami of broken hearts and lives.
Only a new appreciation and respect for what God wrote with his finger on the two stone tablets will change the delusion that is called the new normal. Paul reminds us in the second reading that the Spirit scrutinizes, that is the Spirit highlights every minute detail of the depths of God. To neglect what God gives us of himself is to live with a shallow heart and empty soul. Like the prodigal son, it is possible to be satisfied to eat the husks that the swine eat.
Perhaps not since the Garden of Eden have we had a more stark distinction of the choices that are before us. Like Adam and Eve the choice we make will show whether we trust the God who offers us abundant life or whether we will go on deciding for ourselves. Will we come to the end of our life thankful we let God help us and grace us with his life and love or will we come to the end of our life having done it our way. That's the choice before us.
Dare we be like the Pharisees who cut corners? They were entrusted with the authority to teach the law of Moses. But with their lives they denied what they taught. They were not good examples of what they prescribed for others. That means, for example, they warned others of the consequences of infidelity in marriage, or taking the Lord's name in vain, or not keeping holy the Sabbath, but they didn't take to heart the same words for themselves. And unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we may have cut too many corners to make it into heaven.
If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live. The eyes of God are on those who fear him. (see Sirach 15:15-20)
Is the way of Christ really more difficult and better left untried? I don't think so. Let's not allow any excuses keep us from the grace that is richer and stronger and more powerful than the sin that tempts us.
We have a choice. Let us choose wisely. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: