Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Without a gig at the parish (great job Deacon Tom) here are some thoughts I shared at the University at Albany mass.

Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount by talking about a “greater righteousness” that is achievable by listening and following him.  If we are to be salt of the earth and light of the world, then we will also be able to extend ourselves beyond the mere fulfillment of the law, to living out its spirit, of exercising the mercy that God showed Israel in giving it the law.  Jesus expands on this idea by presenting six antitheses – basically a statement of what the law called for, but now with the Son of God among us, what life in the kingdom demands.  Today, we will hear four of them and four tiny sermons, one for each.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.  But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”  Being angry is not always wrong.  I have heard many times in the confessional people confess that they have been angry, and told them that cannot always be a sin for Jesus was angry.  (It works almost every time except for the once when someone said, “But his mother never was.”)  I think Jesus is talking about becoming an angry person; the kind of person with such a fortress against the world that they are alone, placing themselves outside of mercy and forgiveness.  Anger leads to murdering not just other people, but our hopes, our relationships and the possibility of love.  It is such a corrosive force that when set firmly, it rots one from the inside.

Instead, Jesus says, “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother.”  The ministry of reconciliation is even more important than worship.  A Christian is a reconciler.   If we use our anger, legitimate or not, as a reason to not to forgive, not to be peacemakers, we are withholding the kingdom not just for those we don’t forgive, but for ourselves.  As Jesus tells us, we must settle with others. If there is a person in your life whom you have not forgiven, make your peace, be reconciled and be called children of God.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  This antithesis is accompanied by as healthy a dose of hyperbole that occurs in the Gospel, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.”  I hope that rhetorical flourish that focuses us on living “with a clean heart” does not obscure why lust is wrong.  Lust is the objectification of a person, a narrowing of a whole person as just someone simply desirable for one thing without any reference to the person as a whole.   Think of beauty as something you want to share and lust is something you want just for yourself.  Lust tears at the kingdom while beauty builds it up.

Next there is Christ’s statement on divorce.  “Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.  But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife – unless the marriage is unlawful – causes her to commit adultery.”  There is an important background to this insistence on the integrity of marriage.  A man needed no reason to divorce his wife and a wife could never divorce a husband. A divorced woman was left without property or rights and became among the most vulnerable.  Jesus is protecting, as always, the most vulnerable in society.   

Finally, for this week, Jesus tells us, “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all.”  Our belief in God should be evidence enough of our truthfulness.  If we who follow Christ cannot mean what we say and say what we do, what is the point of following him?   Our lives would be so much simpler if we dared not to measure every phrase or calculate every word.  We fear the plain truth would ruin or at least complicate our lives when in fact, it is dishonesty in all its forms that distorts it.  We construct entire houses to accommodate and protect out simple lies.  Jesus plan is as forthright as wise, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’”

I guess that there is a wider path, an easier way than what Jesus asks of us.  He knows that.  It is easier to be angry than to reconcile, to lust than to love, to divorce too quickly than to persevere, to lie than to tell a hard truth.  But each of those choices makes our life smaller, less life-giving.  No one ever loved more by choosing anger over reconciliation, lust over beauty, sacrifice over quitting too soon or lying over the truth.  The kingdom is built for love.  So are we.  Let us choose well.