Sunday, February 12, 2017
(Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)
The first Christians were all Jews. So, they continued to observe Jewish customs and laws. They were praying in their temples but sooner or later, the gentiles converts joined them but were not observant to the Jewish customs. The Jewish Christians were uncofatable with this. By becoming Christians, were the Jews to abandon their customs which were part of their religious and social life?
As we saw last Sunday with the beatitudes sermounting to ten and Jesus preaching on the mountain, Matthew’s gospel was written primarily for Jewish Christians who understood thw Oold Testament. Today’s reading can be seen as words of encouragement for them. We see also today that Matthew had always to use the Old Testament to show that the life of Jesus is not a breakaway from past Jewish traditions but that it is a continuation of all that was foretold by the prophecies of the Hebrew Testament. The life and teaching of Jesus is not to be seen as a new religion; Jesus’ life is the natural development of the story of salvation. And Jesus is the climax of that story, because Jesus is the Messiah king and saviour for whom the Jews had been waiting for such a long time.
The Law and Jesus
Matthew emphasises the relation between Jewish Law and the teaching of Jesus. Matthew reassures his Jewish audience and us today that Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to bring them to completion. So, in a sense, the Law still has force. “Until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
But we also see the aproach of Jesus was completely new. He did not abolish the Law but he introduced a completely new way of thinking. He did not abolish or change the Law but went far beyond its literal requirements. It is not important just to know the law or to observe it externally, but to observe the law with love. To keep the Law without love is like having a body without a soul. “If your virtue goes no deeper than the Scribes and the Pharisees, then you will never enter the Kingdom of God.”
The Scribes and the Pharisees kept the Law and the Commandments very carefully but did not have the spirit which is the foundation of the Law: to love God and to love the neighbour as oneself. Even in the modern world today, it is easier for us to have a very mechanical notion of what is good behaviour. This is revealed often in the way we “go to confession.”
This brings us to the formation of conscience as Pope Francis requested to be done to the christians who are devorced and remarried so that they can take part in the Communion! The issue is not to go to confession knowing clearly at the back of the mind you1ll roll back into sin! This can be seen in the one of Jesus’ six examples though the reading extract today has onloy four.
To help us understand his meaning Jesus gives six striking examples and, in today’s Gospel, we have four of them. From these, we learn that it is not enough simply to keep what the Law tells us to do. We do not keep the Law through our behaviour but through our basic attitudes, our basic values.
At time, we too like the Pharisees, keep the law just to obey God but we neglect the needs of our neighbours. We get concerned about our own “perfection” or just being in a “state of grace” to a point of neglecting others. Thus we see many people going to confession because they are just sorry offending God but not that their sins hurt others. Going to confession because you stole a goat is not enough if our neighbor is still in pain of losing a goat! For Jesus, we cannot separate our relationship with God and our relationship with people. If we cannot find God in our brothers and sisters, we cannot say that we really love God. That is why the final judgement will be “whatever you do to the least of my brothers, thus you do it unto me!” Or in the words of the First Epistle of John: “If you refuse to love, you must remain dead; to hate your brother is to be a murderer” (1 John 3:15). So if I am going to the Temple to pray and I remember I have offended someone, I should go and reconcile with my brother first and only then make my offering in the Temple. Otherwise, my prayers and offering are of no real value. That is the meaning of the sign of peace which we share with others before sharing in the communion.
Do not kill
Anger is said to be the funniest of the seven deadliest sins. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grieviances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you (Frederick Buechner in his Wishful thinking Transformed by Thorn, p. 117).and head thing.
Anger is equated by Jesus to killing. Many people are galloping about abortion, euthanasia and killibng in Syria and other parts of the world. These tend to forget anger is also a deadly sin. I am not supporting these killings but as Jesus did, bringing our senses to the small things we neglect. Life is sacred from conception to the natural death. To respect this dignity and sacredness of life is paramount since the opposit is lack of respect for God. There is no way one should kill in the name of Allah, Blessed be His name.
Do not commit adultery
The two aspects below are very important especially today as it is the World Day for Families. These are important to understand the contentious issues in Amoris Laetitia by our Holy Father.
“You must not commit adultery.” Adultery occurs when there are sexual relations between two people, of whom at least one is already married. In Jewish Law there were very serious penalties for this. Jesus, however, says you can commit adultery in your thoughts (and nobody knows about it – except you). Jesus is saying that, apart from our external actions, our basic attitude is paramount. We cannot just use another person just as an object to give us pleasure. We cannot use another person like a toy. The idea of “side plans” (mpango wa kando) or “sponsors” in the world of “team mafisi” is a degrading oneself. Real love is completely different. Real respect is completely different. And adultery is wrong not so much because it is a sexual act outside marriage but because it is an act of serious injustice to the innocent married partner and seriously injures the marriage relationship. It is a serious breach of trust and fidelity.
The civil law as was the law of Moses, allows divorce. No wonder King Henry VIII couldnt cope and led to Anglican schism. To him, he was still in the Jewish world where if a husband became sexually attracted to another woman, he could just make an official declaration that he was divorcing his wife. It could be for very trivial reasons like that of Queen Katherine of Aragon not getting a son. It was legal but, according to Jesus, it was against the dignity and the rights of the wife and also now of the husband. It was legal but it was both selfish and unjust. It was legal but also immoral. For Jesus, it is not enough for something to be legal. It must also be good. It must also be an expression of love and justice. That is something we need to remember. Immoral acts are not less moral because they do not happen to be against the law or because I am no longer a practising Catholic.
It would seem that Jesus is dealing here with divorce for selfish reasons. In our time, divorce is often the result of a marriage having irretrievably broken down. In Jesus’ time, love or happiness had very little to do with marriage. It was governed by the laws and by tradition and was seen primarily as the bringing together of two families with the purpose of producing heirs. The matter is more complex in our own time and we have also to distinguish between obtaining a civil divorce (which Catholics can do) and having a second sacramental marriage (which, under the present legislation, Catholics is NOT accepted not even in Amoris Laetitia). And there are other issues involved in the question of divorce but they can be dealt with more fully when we deal with the question later (27th Sunday, Year B) and as we continue reading the Amoris Laetitia in the eyes of the pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (November 22, 1981).
No false swearing
Sorry to use radicle example cum joke to drive a point. It is only in ad bacculum of the Agikuyu that one can use the name of God and Satan simultaneously in the same sentence while swearing (Ma ya Ngai Ngoma ino ni ukunyona!). Jesus while talking to such Kyuks of Israel said, “Don’t swear falsely! Carry out what you vow.” It was common in Jesus’ time for people to guarantee the truth of what they said by making a solemn oath before God. Jesus’ point is that a good Christian does not have to swear at all, because a true Christian is a reliable and totally honest person. He or she is a person of integrity. Such people can be trusted when they speak. They don’t have to give external guarantees. Their ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ means exactly what is said and there are no mental reservations. It is a pleasure to meet people like that, who are totally transparent and have nothing to hide.
Catholics and the law
There are not a few Catholics who feel that if they just keep the Commandments they are good Catholics. They often like to ask, “Is this a sin?”, that is, is it against the law? Is it a mortal sin or is it a venial sin? If it is “only” a venial sin, then I can do it. But true Christians do not ask whether something is legal or illegal. It is not a question that same sex marriage is legal or illegal! It is a question of whether women choice vs child-choice! It is not a question of clear conscience but a formed and Holy Spirit inspired conscience. True Christian loves God, they love Jesus, they love their brothers and sisters.
Their only concern is how they can serve and love them more and more. They want to work with Jesus and with his brothers and sisters to build the Kingdom of God. No matter how much they do, they know they can still love more and do more and be more. It is not then a question of law; it is not a question of what I have to do. It is a question of how much more I can do, how much more I want to do. The requirements of the law are way behind.
Let us pray for the sacredness of our families since a family is a domestic church and her values need to be guarded and protected especially in this modern world invested with liberalistic mentality. Through the prayers of the Holy Family of Jesus, mary and Joseph and through the intercession of the saintly family of St. Louis and St. Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, that the values of family may be protected.
St. Theresa of Lisieux, pray for us