There are two homily notes here for our reflection. God bless you as you read them
Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20; Psalm 118; 1Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
Rev. Fr. Thomas Oyode
“On the Demands of God’s Law”
Last Sunday Jesus’s exhortation was a call to allow our lives influence the world around us in a way that establishes a concrete and authentic experience of God in men’s hearts by our Christian way of life. Today’s reflection is nothing short of this same theme, albeit, it sets standards that should guide this Christian way of life. We must admit that, generally, it is never easy to live the Christian life faithfully as the challenges are as real and potent as the very ideals of the Christian life itself.
One thread that could be identified as connecting all three readings today is the thread of personal responsibility, Christian personal responsibility that rests on a well informed choice of a way of life. In other words, we are responsible for our actions by the very choices we make freely. However, Christian responsibility entails that the individual Christian strives for Christian maturity by pursuing good and avoiding evil. This way of living is universal, every people of every tribe and race and of all epochs know that evil is to be avoided and good is to be embraced. As seen in the readings also, the Christian is, more than anyone else, obliged to follow this basic norm as a way of doing the will of God, understanding that human wisdom can not fully explain what happiness awaits those who do what God requires. We can, thus, say that today’s liturgy sets a blueprint, a guide, a scheme of work to guide what our choices should aspire towards in other to find true happiness.
Jesus begins by telling us that his teaching is not in any way meant to abolish the law but to fulfil it. The idea or thought of the word, “law” for most of us today could be very troubling and discomforting. In a world that has been influenced over time by legal positivism, materialism, marxist and fascist ideas, to mention but a few, the law could appear as an instrument of oppression, an object set to limit human freedom, happiness, choice and creativity. Unfortunately, this instrumentalist and functional notion of law is absolutely false and wrong. Law is meant to create order, to guide relationships among members of a given group or society with a view to protecting the very freedom of each member on the bases of justice, equity and equality so as to preserve the dignity of the individual person as created by God, following the principles of divine revelation and reason. It is not simply a means it is also an end.
As a matter of fact, the conception of law proposed above is not far fetched from what Jesus intended by his use of the word, “law” in today’s gospel. By it, Jesus means the Torah, the will of God who is Eternal Truth which was revealed to the Jews for their salvation. It is the Eternal Reason of God. Thus it refers to the direction of Divine Reason by which God leads us to fulfilling his will, so that along that direction, we may find happiness. The implication of this that the law as a the will of God is not only a path, a road, it is also a standard, a norm, an ideal, an example, or may be a template. It is for this same reason that Jesus talks about teaching and obeying the law. In this sense it is merely a functional but an experience, a mode of living, modus vivendi.
Now, Jesus goes on to talk about teaching and obeying the law after talking about himself as one who has come to fulfil rather than to abolish the law. Before the time of Jesus, as the Israelites awaited the Messiah, they had an image of one who was to be “the Teacher of Righteousness”, he was to practice the law in a way that exceeds that of the Pharisees and he was to teach the law, the commandments of God in its purity beyond that of the Sadducees. Loking at this, it becomes Crystal clear that Jesus the Messiah is the Teacher of Righteousness per excellence. He is the New Moses who not only gives the law but gives it an authentic interpretation (with justice as its scale of balance) and also lives it out by the example of his personal life.
This is where Jesus challenges us today. We would recall that he said that unless our piety goes beyond that of the scribes and the pharisees we would not enter into the kingdom of God. In other words, if we do not strive to teach the way of God by true and pure interpretation of the commandments and a purity of life, we would really be needing to do more. Jesus is telling us that a mere legalistic conception of the commandments of God is insufficient in leading us to salvation. Thus it is not simply a matter of dos and don’ts it should grow to the point of understanding that the commands are for our own good, for our salvation. This understanding can only come from a heart that is rich in love for God and for one’s fellows. We are usually tempted to highlight rules and regulations be it in political, religious, social or even administrative spheres. There is nothing wrong with this but the Christian should know that the will of God is for the salvation of each one of us and that is why any action, including the very interpretation and application of any law whatsoever, is unacceptable if goes against will of God, the Eternal Reason, for the salvation of souls.
Lastly, the love-filled heart is usually inclined to patiently striving, in trust and humility, to do the will of God. Let us prayerfully keep in mind the words of the Psalmist in today’s responsorial pslam, that the Word of God may be a light and lamp for us against the darkness of sin and error that we make wise and responsible choices, doing good and avoiding evil, knowing that, as St. Paul says, “the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.” May our Lady, Mirror of Justice, pray for us. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Matthew 5 can be divided into nine different parts, the first of these is Sermon on the Mount called the beatitude – Christ commentary on our attitude. Next to it is the teaching on the gospel of salt and light. Familiar images that describe the life of discipleship. Today’s gospel presents us with five other parts that expressed the teaching of Christ on certain laws with the goal of becoming true worshipers and not pretenders. I shall expose these laws briefly with no attempt to relax any of them.
Teaching About the Law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Jesus did not reject the Old Testament of the Jews, but brought it back to its basics: love God and love your neighbor; Jesus’ life perfectly reflect this pattern of love. Again, Jesus fulfilled the law and the Prophets; in Luke 2;21 he was circumcised; in Luke2:22 he was presented in the Temple for purification; in Luke 2:41 he was with his parents in Jerusalem for the festival of Passover; in fact even the scripture says of him in 1Cor.15:3-4 that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures”. Therefore, Christ did not abolish the law and the prophets. We can go all the way to say that Christianity did not come to abolish our laws and cultures just as some would say. Rather it came to sanctify our laws and customs, it brought about inculturation, Christianity brought love into our laws and traditions. Thank God for the missionaries; else the stories of killing of twins, Abinos, even the frustrations widows go through till date is still a task for evangelization. Marrying wives like material acquisition still remains a task for the gospel. Therefore, love comes before law.
Teaching About murder “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. In Gen 4 even though Cain killed Abel God did not permit anyone to kill Cain. Thus, murder is a serious offence against God. It is the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. It further includes: Intentional Homicide; Abortion; Indirect Homicide (a sin which brings about the death of another as a result of negligence of one’s duty. Neglect, for example, by a parent toward a child which results in that child’s death); Suicide; Euthanasia (Mercy killing- a false sense of compassion at work.)
Other Considerations includes: Anger; insult and hatred. These violates this command not to kill because of their implication on human life and basic human dignity. Harsh speech, slander, ridicule, gossip and the like violate this commandment as well because they “kill” another’s character and good name. Other violations would be the use of illegal drugs or abuse of prescription drugs, neglect of proper care of one’s body, eating too much, sleeping too much, excess drinking of alcoholic, and the like. Therefore, the first reading says we are free but we are accountable for our actions. Christian maturity is responsibility in freedom. You don’t really know people when they are not free, they may just be actors and pharisaic in their deeds, good pretenders and their righteousness is like that of the scribes and Pharisees. The Kingdom of God comes when we exceed that level of worship. We are faced with millions of crisis today because many of us are good christian pretenders
Teaching About Adultery: ‘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. Lust is a symptom for adultery or fornication, anyone who has a symptons and does not treat it will soon be in critical condition. It is adultery that says when I am not close to the woman I love, I love the woman I am close to. Thus, you must cure the symptoms immediately before you fall for adultery. Beloved in Christ begin to treat that symptom now before it is too late. Heb 13:4 says Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 1Cor.6:9 the sexually immoral and adulterers will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The cure comes from self-control ability to cut off lust so that you will not be lost. Thus it says “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.”
Teaching About Divorce: “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. Therefore divorced is not a solution to a problem but a change of problem. Marriage is manage and that is why it has an end. Marriage ends at death. However, not every marriage was ‘joined by God’ even if it took place in a church especially, when consent was forced, or one party was deceived and the likes. But for the once joined together by God, the Matt19:6 says what God has joined together let no man divide.
Teaching About Oaths. 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….[…] this statement is not an absolute rejection of oath. Jesus did not exclude oaths made for grave and right reasons such as ordination and religious profession, but rather condemned false and frivolous oaths. It only rejects taking of oath when deep within you know you will not keep it (Eccl5:4-5) It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Thus, it says let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one. Beloved in Christ, God is not mocked whatever a man sows he shall reap. Lord give us the grace to follow you. Mary help of Christians, pray for us.