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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

SIR 15:15-20; PS 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1COR 2:6-10; MT 5:17-37

February 12, 2014

The first reading from Sirach lays out the fundamental decision we need to make - the choice between life and death, between good and evil. That choice will determine the direction and meaning of our life. What does this decision entail?

Children are taught to base their decisions on rules. Don't touch a hot stove! Don't run with a scissors or knife! Don't fight with other kids! Children may not know the reasons, but they are to just "follow the rules."

In today's gospel reading, taken from the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew, Jesus is reminding the people of the rules or law of God, stating that "whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5: 19). However, Jesus goes on to teach that obedience includes, but goes beyond, the externals to the internal intent of the commandments. A child may blindly follow a rule to avoid punishment or harm, but an adult is to understand and follow the underlying meaning of the law of God.

Jesus pronounced the commandment, "You shall not kill," but then adds that anyone who is angry with one's brother or sister is liable to judgment. He pronounced the commandment "You shall not commit adultery," but then adds, "everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt. 5: 28). Making this life choice to follow the deeper meaning of the law of God requires an on-going internal conversion and transformation. This is an adult Christian decision.

Making such a choice for life rather than death sometimes is clear, but difficult. At other times, it is not clear, which makes the decision even more challenging. The book of Sirach attempted to show the original listeners that Israel's scriptures and wisdom was better than the Greek philosophy of that time. In a similar way in the second reading, Paul warned the people not to be drawn to "a wisdom of this age," but rather to choose "God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages..." (I Cor. 2: 6-7).

Discerning and choosing God's wisdom and the internal meaning of God's law of love instead of the "false wisdoms" and trends of our time occurs at significant turning points in our life. But this decision also happens in the "ordinary time" of our life. While I am not committing murder, how am I "killing" or harming someone (and myself) through my prejudice, selfishness, injustice, or lack of compassion? In other words, how do my daily choices of where I invest my time, talent, and resources strengthen and reflect my fundamental decision for life, rather than death. That is, for God's life! This is part of our on-going internal conversion and transformation. It is much more than merely following the law of God externally.

The good news is that this hard work of following the meaning of the new law of Jesus is accompanied by God's grace. We are to die to ourselves and follow the Spirit, who "scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God" (I Cor 2:10).

Roger Schroeder, SVD
Professor of Intercultural Studies and Ministry
Bishop Francis X. Ford, MM, Chair of Catholic Missiology

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