Feb. 15, 2020



Readings: 1st- Sir. 15:15-20; 2nd- 1 Cor. 2:6-10; Gospel- Matt. 5:17-37

We have been presented with a challenge in the readings of today, to live according to the higher standards required of Christians.

The first reading opens with the importance of free-will which is God’s special gift to humanity. Man’s exercise of free will is not because of God’s inability to take charge of his creation. It is not because God is weak and cannot control the vast created universe. Rather, by free will, God bestowed upon man the capacity to choose. Hence, life and death, good and evil, light and darkness, are fundamental choices available to humanity by God’s generosity.

The wise Ben Sirach recognizes the infinite power of God this way, “Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.” Even though man chooses the wrong path most of the time, Sirach vindicates God’s position in our wrong choices. He affirms, “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin” (15:20). Human beings use their freedom wrongly because their actions are based on earthly wisdom contaminated by evil. Human wisdom is corruptible. Divine wisdom is mysterious, hidden, predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). The wisdom of God is only revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus reminds his listeners in the gospel about his mission, he has come not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s commandments. He invites his listeners to rely on God’s commandments in making choices in order to so set good examples for others. Jesus helps the Jews with the correct interpretation of the Law, namely, they must go beyond external manifestations and consider the significance of their interior dispositions.

Jesus sets out some contrasts to the Jewish laws as follows:

Old Law no. 1: Against killing: “You shall not kill, and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.”

Jesus’ antithesis: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Anger alone can make someone guilty. The heart stores up transgressions through anger. Therefore, the disciples of Jesus should be able to forgive their enemies on time. They have a greater responsibility to avoid whatever is associated with killing. If we let anger build up, then it devolves into conflicts that might lead to killing. We must make peace out of court.

Old Law no. 2: Against adultery: “You shall not commit adultery.”

Jesus’ antithesis: “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus warns his followers to have custody of their thoughts. The concupiscence of the flesh begins in the mind. Hence, to guard the senses against lustful thoughts and desires is the first step to avoiding lustful actions. No wonder Christ said, “But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him” (Mk. 7:22). We must keep our hearts pure from evil thoughts and intentions.

Old Law no. 3: Against divorce: “Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.”

Jesus’ Antithesis: “Whoever divorces his wife -unless the marriage is unlawful- causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” For the followers of Jesus, the question of divorce in marriage must not be part of the agenda. Jesus reinforces the fact that marriage that is validly contracted stands indissoluble. The man does not have any prerogative as in the Old Testament to send his wife away for the slightest provocation. Both the man and the woman have equal responsibility in marriage.

Old Law no. 4: Against Oath-taking: “Do not take a false oath but make good to the Lord all that you vow.”

Jesus’ Antithesis: “Do not swear at all… Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,” and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’

Jesus condemns oath-taking since it only stretches the truth too far. Why swear when you can say a simple truth? Christ redirects Christians to the ultimate reality of truth. Truth must precede the actions of every believer. We must identify with Jesus -the way, truth, and life.

The message in today’s gospel calls our attention to how much internal dispositions are crucial in our lives. They help us to discover the causes of our actions rather than base judgment on the effects. The wise Ben Sirach states, “to none does he give license to sin.” God does not regard anyone’s sins differently. Whether man or woman, young or old, black or white, rich or poor. God frowns at actions that contradict the Commandments.

If we take this a little beyond the Christian scope, we might wonder why some people think that they have the license to kill; they do it without qualms of conscience. Think about the evils of Christian persecution in the world, how numerous Christians in various parts such as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, are killed. Think about terrorists and Islamist extremists who kill with impunity. They grossly misuse their gift of free will. They abuse their freedom. They put God to test and try the patience of Christians. They inflict untold pain, suffering, and hardship on others. They have no license to sin.

If you sin, go back to God and ask for forgiveness. Never remain obstinate in sin. Never become comfortable in iniquity. Fight the urge to sin from the inside. Evil desires breed crime. That is the metaphorical “right eye” that Jesus describes in the gospel which leads to sin. That is the metaphorical “right hand.” Christ says if it causes you to sin, uproot it and have it destroyed, “It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” The Christian standard will always higher.