February 12, 2017
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
SIR 15:15-20 PS 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34 1 COR 2:6-10 MT 5:17-37
Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – and make no mistake about it, today’s is chock full of hard yet beautiful teachings. If you were fortunate to hear the entire Gospel read at Mass today, and not just the unbracketed portions, you heard Jesus say:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
“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, and then come offer your gift.”
“…and whoever says to his brother ‘Raqa’, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says ‘You fool’, will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.”
These passages describe several characteristics of being a disciple of Jesus. Some quite graphically, in fact. Last week, He said we must be salt and light. This week, He gives us examples of what that looks like. It’s not as simple as merely following the Mosaic Law through external ritual or automatic response. Anybody can do that. Jesus is teaching us we must fulfill the intent of the Law. He said our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Say what? Did Jesus just say those guys were righteous? Weren’t they the antithesis of righteousness?
Yes and no. They knew and obeyed the letter of the law, yet failed to see the law’s intent: love God, and love your neighbor. Be hard on yourself, but merciful to others. Seek reconciliation. Be quick to forgive. Have integrity. Treat others with dignity. The scribes and Pharisees were righteous in their faithfulness to the law’s letter – and Jesus never says that’s a bad thing – but they weren’t fully righteous. Jesus commands his disciples to live the fullness of the law – in our hearts as well as in our deeds. It’s all or nothing.
Let’s not kid ourselves: discipleship is hard. Today’s Gospel is full of hard sayings, and harder ones are forthcoming. Discipleship is a narrow road to navigate. It’s been hard since the Church’s beginning, but it’s not impossible. We have the examples of the saints and martyrs, of the many holy men and women throughout the history of the faith to guide us. We have the Sacraments to strengthen us. We can place unfailing hope in what awaits us as a reward for our faithfulness. As St Paul wrote in today’s second reading:
“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…”
Many reject Christ’s call. The world desperately needs disciples, and doesn’t realize it because it continually rejects them. We see that rejection occurring daily…hourly…from minute-to-minute even, across social media platforms – the rancor, the anger, the hatred, the name-calling, the trolling. Catholics do it, in all areas of life: the Church, politics, social issues. I’ve been guilty of it. I’ve insulted way too many people, and I know I’ve called people fools on plenty of occasions. Society slips deeper into coarseness, it seems, and Catholics are contributing to leading society farther away from the ideals of discipleship. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. But it happens on blogs, on Facebook, on news sites, and in publications. Don’t get me wrong – many many Catholics being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, but let’s be honest – we have been like the scribes and Pharisees more than we might care to admit.
So, if Facebook causes you to sin, delete the app. It is better for you to not see cute kitten videos than to have your whole body cast into Gehenna. And if Twitter causes you to sin, delete the app. It is better for you to lose a social media platform than to have your whole body enter Gehenna in 140 characters or fewer.
Or something like that.