February 12th, 2017 …Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel

Matthew 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
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.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“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;
and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
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 and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“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.
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.

“It was also said,
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,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“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;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

Homily

Today’s gospel passage was rather long and if I’m being honest has enough material for about eight homilies. There are quite a handful of themes from which to choose.  But before I start, I’m going to ask all of you to fast forward to communion for a moment.  On occasion, as we are lined up to receive the Eucharist, we will see a host slip from someone’s hand and fall to the ground.  It is always a regrettable situation but it happens.  Now, I’m going to ask you all to think back at a time when you witnessed that happening.  Do you recall the reaction of the priest or Eucharistic Minister?  Besides being a little embarrassed, they most likely bent down, without hesitation and carefully picked up the consecrated host.  Then, they either immediately consumed it or held it in their hand to eat it after communion ended.  What you never see is a priest or minister throw the host away after it has fallen to the ground.  And we all are aware as to the reason why.  That’s because we know that at one point during the mass the host ceased being just a host.  The bread we consume has been transformed.  The same sacredness that is present in God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is now present and alive in the host.  We would never dream of tossing it in the trash if it touches the ground.  In fact the mere image of doing such a thing should evoke a response of outrage from us.  Now, please hold that thought for just a moment.

Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law…I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. What did Jesus mean? You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, do not take a false oath. These statements are pretty clear. Killing is bad. Not honoring the sanctity of marriage is bad. Lying is bad. We get this. But what did Jesus mean when he said that he came to fulfill the law?

Let’s go back to the image I gave you of the host falling to the ground. We know that at the center of the host is the presence of Christ. Jesus wants us to fully understand that his presence, that the presence of the Holy Spirit, is equally present and alive in all of human kind. And that our intense reaction to the mere notion of a consecrated being tossed in the trash should evoke just as much indignation as witnessing others suffer or being maltreated or being marginalized, or being tossed away by society.

You shall not kill. As Catholics we recognize that each and every life is sacred, from the womb to the tomb, because God gave us life. If we truly seek to have Christ at the center of our hearts, we must understand that Jesus cannot live in a heart that is consumed with anger or filled with hate.

You shall not kill means that we care for those who cannot care for themselves. It means that we give food and clothing and shelter to anyone in need.  The face of Jesus is present in every life.  We can try to look away or simply pretend that it isn’t there.  But that would simply be foolish and wrong.  Granted, on some the face of Jesus may be very difficult to see but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.  It just means that we have to try harder to find it.  Loving others, showing mercy to others, forgiving others is not always easy to do.  Providing for others, especially strangers, may be downright difficult to do.  But when we direct our compassion to the sacred presence of Christ within the stranger, walls crumble and over time the face of Jesus becomes easier to recognize.

You shall not commit adultery and do not take a false oath. Honesty, loyalty, truthfulness, and integrity are the foundations of goodness. One thing that everyone in church has in common is that we all strive to be good. We each want the loved ones in our lives to view us as honorable. We want others to be able to count on us to do the right thing. So that when the time comes, we make the moral choice. Sure temptation will rear its alluring head but we won’t want take the bait because we are on a path towards goodness. Lying, gossiping, bullying, or being silent when others are be bullied. There is absolutely no honor in this. Deep down we all know this. Not honoring your commitment to your spouse or family can be a hurtful matter. Not being respectful and loyal to those around you is damaging. That’s why Jesus directs us to treat with reverence and kindness those around us. To love thy neighbor.

To do all these things is not remotely easy. At times, it may very well seem like the hardest thing that we will ever be called to do. But do it we must.

We should all aspire to have our hearts become Jesus’ heart; to be as loving and as compassionate and as forgiving as Jesus was. Our goals should be to alleviate suffering and pain just as Jesus did. Our desire should be to welcome the outcasts just as Jesus did. Truly, like the Eucharist, to let the presence of Christ within us come alive.

 

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