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February 20, 2011

1st Reading: Sirach 15: 15-20 – Man’s Free Will

Responsorial Psalm 119 – Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10 – The True Wisdom

Gospel: Matthew 5: 13-16 – Teaching About the Law

This has been sitting in my queue begging to be finished whilst I was being tasked in many directions, and I almost scrapped it, but realized, ‘Hey! Its all good: Jesus is still up on the Mount of Beatitudes doing comprehensives with the disciples.  So the 6th will prequel the 7th for today!  Last week in RCIA, one of the Catechumens asked a great question: So, is there, like, a list of what sin is? Like a Sinlist?  We said sure, and the Liturgy of the Word for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time underscores it.

In the beginning, there were commandments. Not just the Ten (which are included here), but 613 commandments, called Mitzvot.  Not even the Cradles can rattle them all off by heart.  They can be found in the Torah – the first five books of the Jewish Scriptures.  The Pentateuch.  And, today, there are those commandments related to the Temple and sacrifices – because the Temple no longer stands – or punishment – because the theocratic state of Israel no longer exits – that are no longer observed.  But, all in all, it is a pretty darn comprehensive Sinlist.

Our secular-based society reflects that, doesn’t it?  Regulations, Laws, Codes ad infinitum.  We thrive on rules that tell us, ‘uh, uh, uh; don’t do that!’  We have rules and laws for everything you can imagine, and two for the ones you can’t.

All of the readings for this 6th Sunday of Tempus per annum (just seeing if you checked out last weeks reflection) theme nicely together – cemented by the Psalm.  The first reading is from the Book of Sirach.  Though not included in Hebrew Bible after the 1st century A.D., nor accepted as canon by Protestants, Sirach was written originally in Hebrew, and was in harmony with the Torah, but it was penned about 200 years after Ezra – the third criteria for Canon.  But at the Council of Nicaea – about 1200 years before the Protestant Reformation, the universal Church recognized Deuterocanonical books as divinely inspired and canonical.  And indeed, Sirach’s Latin designation is Liber Ecclesiasticus: ‘Church Book.’  It was used extensively to present moral teaching to Catechumens and to the faithful.

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you. Sirach 15:15

Sirach, the sage, writes about man’s free will.  If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you. The NAB commentary points out that, “The sinner is fully responsible for his conduct because God, who sees all things, is not the author of wickedness.”  Professor Thomas H. Weber, when at St Mary Seminary, also wrote, “it is not God’s work but that of man himself. This affirmation of free will is rarely made so forthrightly in the rest of the OT” (Jerome Biblical Commentary).  Before men are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him (Sir 15: 17).  So Sirach tells me to go all the way back to the beginning to Genesis, where the serpent says to the woman, ‘Surely you will not die!  Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods yourself, who know what is good and what is bad’ (cf. Gen 3: 4, 5).  Nicely played.  Sirach just reminds us, hey: it is our choice.

The Responsorial Psalm, the Liturgical glue that keeps the readings together, is from Psalm 119. Here I quote the NAB commentary again, because it is dead-on and relative to today: “The author glorifies and thanks God for the Torah, prays for protection from sinners enraged by others’ fidelity to the law.”  Doesn’t that sound like today’s public square?  How often do Christians feel persecuted in this relative society?  As we cling to the 1st Amendment and the Founding Father’s guiding principles, others come along to attempt to strip us of those rights.  Doubt?  Referring to said 1st Amendment, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ then why did my son come home in the 5th grade to report that he was told to redo a Holiday project because what he created, “might offend someone.” The assignment?  Make a decoration for the school holiday tree.  His grievous crime?  He made an angel.  And as I stormed by the tree noting a well crafted menorah, a luminous sickle and star, as well as jolly ol’ St Nick, I thought, huh?  But I digress.  Psalm 119 is about the Torah – God’s laws for man to help him avoid sin, and evil, and death.  And I am looking up holiday trees as well.

St. Paul is also having his little sermon these past weeks, in Corinth.  And he talks how if the powers, the rulers of this world knew Jesus was the promised Messiah, they wouldn’t have crucified him. The late Passionist, Father Richard Kugelman, C.P., taught that Paul is referring not to rulers, but to the wicked spirits that, since Adam’s sin, have enslaved both Jew and Gentile alike.  And had these spirits known the mystery of Christ, well, the ending would have been altered.  But as St. Paul indicates in his Scripture version, What eye has not seen, and ear had not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, the Christian mystery lay hidden.

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 alter, go first and be reconciled with your brother. Matthew 5: 23,24

Now it is time to be fed, and Jesus doesn’t disappoint. After telling them they are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, he begins clearly and succinctly: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17).  The Pharisees aren’t wrong about the law, just it’s value.  The Law isn’t salvific, faith in the Christ is.  And he lays it on them thick: its not thou shalt not kill, but not get angry.  It isn’t thou shalt not commit adultery, but even a lustful glance.  It isn’t about a false oath, but don’t swear at all. “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’ (Mt 5: 37).  Be straightforward.  Be honest.  These are difficult, mysterious things, but the disciples are getting the Full Meal Deal.  So, stay tuned… the Sermon on the Mount is going to rock the house, theirs and yours, all the way to Lent, right down to the foundation.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. Connie permalink
    February 21, 2011 5:48 pm

    Thinking about all the laws and the codes we have…don’t we have some of them because without the details people will abuse them? For instance: Drive with Caution in Traffic can be a law. Okay so someone defines that as blaring their horn as they drive up behind slower drivers. They are being cautious, they want the slower driver to MOVE! Obviously we have to spell it out for people or they will do whatever THEY spell out. That was what the Pharisees did, only they also did it to justify their lifestyle over those who weren’t as rich or powerful.
    Jesus laid it out beautifully as you said but here we are years and years later and we are still struggling to do just that. There will never be a complete Sinlist…but I trust there will always be in the heart of Christians a dependence upon the Holy Spirit as we continue to struggle with sin.
    Just a thought.

    I am staying tuned.

    • March 6, 2011 10:31 pm

      Funny today we talked about all the laws and codes of marriage – and marriage gets abused more than anything! I think the Liturgy of the word, today, really pressed for an answer. Crap or get off the pot, y’know? Pick good. Or pick evil. No in between. Obey the commands of the Lord your God – or not. The last line in Matthew today underscores this: He spoke not with authority, for the scribes had that, but, rather, he was authority. Mount of Beatitudes was where the disciples had their a-ha moment. And how they didn’t try to grab him again (like the Loaves & Fishes) and make him their king, I don’t know. But Jesus did know. What a remarkable time to be a witness!

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