Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year A

George F. Riley, O.S.A.
(1935 – 2022)

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

Those of us who enjoy walking along the beach at any time of the year can find some very interesting marine life. One of the more fascinating marine animals, I think, is the starfish. From its central disc radiates five arm-like projections, and if an underwater creature grabs hold of one of the arms of the starfish, the starfish can break off that arm in order to escape to freedom. Later the starfish can grow an entirely new arm through a process called regeneration.

In comparison to the starfish, we human have a limited power of regeneration. Cuts on the skin and broken bones can be regenerated, but entire structures such as an arm, a leg, or even a finger cannot. Yet it seems that in today’s gospel Christ is calling us to be like starfish. But Christ knows that we must not take his words literally. When Christ tells us to cut off our hand or foot, or tear out an eye, he was speaking in a typically Semitic way, trying to make a point by means of exaggeration.

And Christ does have a very important lesson to teach us today, and it is this: Eternal life is the most important goal that each of us has. No sacrifice is too great in order to attain it.

The Christ in today’s gospel seems to be somewhat out of character with the picture we have of the loving Lord who is the good shepherd and divine physician. The words we heard in today’s gospel are rather tough and threatening. Yet, Christ uses such strong words because he wants to emphasize our goal – eternal life. Christ wants us to be aware that we have to make many sacrifices in order to attain that goal and nothing, no one, no person is to stand in our way. This is a truth of which we have to be reminded, because we so easily take on bad ideas and habits.

1. Are we envious of people who seem to live without any moral code?
2. Are we jealous of people who seem to do whatever they please and always get away with it?
3. Are we frightened of missing out because Christ’s ways are too demanding?

I am talking about the frustration, anxiety and tension between God and ourselves. God is on one end calling us outward toward him, and we are on the other end pulling to ourselves inwardly. God wants us to die to ourselves so that we might live, truly and eternally. Our society wants us to die to self so that we can be reborn as a better consumer, more unsatisfied with what we have, more ungrateful for all that we receive, more demanding that no costly pleasure be foregone, no supposed need be unmet.

And so Jesus places before us a way of life which is bitter to our modern taste:

1. Be reconciled with your brother and sister: Even when they do not ask, even when they do not apologize, even when they are in the wrong.
2. Do not swear at all: Even if you are stuck in traffic, even if you are disappointed by the Eagles.
3. Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery: Even if you both are lonely.

The words of Sirach are directed to our hearts: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” Such awesome power has the Lord bestowed on us! He desires us to live, but will not force us. His will is that we might flourish in virtue, crosses on our backs, the poor in our care, observing His laws, the blessings of family and friends received with daily gratitude. But we are not marionettes. We must choose life. Only then are we fit to receive what God has prepared for those who love Him.