6th Sunday in OT (February 12, 2017)

6th Sunday in OT (February 12, 2017)

A Sunday School teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her students.  After explaining the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother,” she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?”  Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill.”  [The Soul Who Could, Fr. Joe Robinson, 2016]

Hearing about the commandments in our Scriptures today, I believe these readings certainly are challenging.  I think especially for us who live in this country that values freedom and independence, the word “commandment” just makes us bristle a little bit.  It’s interesting that in this same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that we hear the Beatitudes and about being salt & light, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” really seems to be heating up.  Not only does He say that He has not come to abolish the commandments, the law and the prophets; He actually came to raise them to a whole new level, to fulfill them.  We know the commandment “you shall not kill,” for example, but Jesus says, “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”  We know the commandment “you shall not commit adultery,” but Jesus says that to lust is to have committed it in our hearts.  This is tough because maybe sometimes we have this temptation to think, “You know, as long as I haven’t committed any of the ‘biggies’ I don’t really have to worry about too much.”

Yet, Jesus says, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  God wants ALL of us—all our heart, mind, and soul.  The commandments, law and prophets came about because people had separated themselves from God, starting all the way back with Adam and Eve.  The scribes and Pharisees were known and revered to be strict interpreters and followers of the smallest letter of the law, but did they really experience covenant love with God?  Was their “righteousness” a real relationship?  Jesus ups the ante on the commandments because He demands not just external conformity but an internal alignment to God.  The law is there to guide the relationship, not replace it.  Sin, then, is not really about broken rules but broken relationships, with God and with others.  We’re often good at rationalizing sinfulness or pretending it’s not there.  None of us LIKE to think about it, but are we then missing out on the life that God wants to grow within us?  Jesus gives this exaggerated example of throwing out body parts to say that if there are things that get in the way of living His life, then they need to be gotten rid of—anger, resentment, envy, condemnation, lack of forgiveness, violence, lust, impure thoughts or images or acts, unfaithfulness, injustice, dishonesty…whatever it might be.

All of this is wrapped up God’s great plan of salvation through Christ, and the ultimate freedom that we’re meant to have being in a covenant relationship with the living God.  This is the wisdom of God that St. Paul writes about to the Corinthians.  Yet we have to enter into this “mysterious, hidden wisdom” of the Cross. We should always keep in mind that whatever we offer as part of our covenant relationship with God is far exceeded by what God offers us—“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  Sirach says, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live.”  Jesus came to reveal a new wisdom, a new law, a new way of living—to provide us an opportunity for newness, for wholeness, for fulfillment.  Do we really trust that the God who thought us into being and made us out of love, who became one of us and died and rose for our sake, wants nothing but our true and lasting happiness and fulfillment when He puts forth His commandments (summed up in the great commandment of love)?  

As we can see, our Scripture readings today don’t gloss over the very real tensions of human existence.  So we can be glad that God’s grace is there to help us to choose and live the greatest good, particularly through the Sacraments.   While society might want us to lower the bar, the Church’s mission is to make you and me into saints.  Since human beings are made in the image and likeness of God to have a special share in His life, then for us to become more holy is for us to become more authentically human.  And, I think, in the end that’s what we all desire.