Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

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Joseph F. Girone, O.S.A.
St. Augustine College Preparatory School
Richland, New Jersey

Readings
Sir 15:15-20
Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Cor 2:6-10
Mt 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

This Sunday gives us the opportunity to consider law and commandments. Decidedly, this is not a hot topic in the church pews these days. Mention commandments and the eyes begin to glaze over in a culture that prefers to be participative to ultimately determine what is going to be a good fit for the individual and not what an authority imposes from above. Even the prospect that Sirach offers us in the first reading to choose to keep the commandments is undermined by determinist, materialistic thinkers who deny the possibility of free will; the possibility of choosing.

Perhaps it is the approach to civil law that can give us an open door to understanding biblical law. Civil Laws are adopted and changed all the time according the needs of society. However, underlying this reality, most of us would accept that the proscriptive nature of law is pedagogical. That is, it teaches and informs the society. It guides its values and principles.

Furthermore, for the common good it seeks to shape the behavior of those who come under the law. We all understand what a red light means even though it may be violated. We know that adherence to this traffic law provides safety for both motorist and pedestrian. Excessive disobedience leads to the dreaded the red light camera at dangerous intersections. We want to avoid this at all costs so we are more careful.

The Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel more than lays down the law. He cites it as he came to know it in the Torah and takes it a step further. He goes beyond by challenging his hearers that their righteousness (justice and right relationships) need to go further than that of the scribes and Pharisees; those whose job it was to keep the Law.

This seemingly makes the commandant exceed what is possible to do. Referencing the fifth commandment (You shall not kill), Jesus takes it a step further and says that “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.” The followers of Jesus now have to ask themselves what is the pedagogical nature of this expectation? Well, certainly the value to be inculcated and appropriated is the recognition of the role of anger that can lead to antisocial behavior. Road rage anyone? Revenge murder? Protracted anger that kills relationships?

Perhaps the commandment that is up for the most ridicule is the sixth one prohibiting adultery and what Jesus does with it. In our explicit society where nothing is left to the imagination, Jesus’ telling us that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” comes off as laughable. Statistics on monogamy anyone?

Yet, even though this formulation comes from a patriarchal view point, its intent is actually the protection of the woman who had no rights in Jesus’s time. Protecting the woman in this way strengthened and enabled the family bond and thus the protection of the children who also had no rights. Can we say that Jesus’ intent was not to be a sourpuss about sexuality, but rather to deepen it in order to realize its end which was and is that the “two become one flesh.” In this new #MeToo age, which has exposed where “lusting in the heart” can lead, it might make one ask: “But Jesus, where have you been during all these years of exploitation?”

Civil law often comes about because of a need experienced by its citizens. It rises up from the experience of the people in order to provide for their well-being. Similarly, our biblical commandants as Jesus presents them this day, rise up from within us as he calls them forth. We need them in order to preserve and deepen not only our vertical relationship with God but also that horizontal relationship with our neighbor in right and just relationships which mirror the very nature of God. For this reason, Sirach can write that the commandments “will save you” so that we too may live. Who does not want to live and live to the fullest?