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Sunday, February 16, 2014

16 February 2014 - Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time



Shared Homily Starter


1st Reading:    Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:15-20
2nd Reading:   1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Gospel:           Matthew 5:17-37

Some of you may be unfamiliar with the source of the First Reading.  It is from Sirach, is also called the Wisdom of Sirach and also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus.  This is one of the biblical books in the Orthodox, Anglican and Roman Catholic Bibles that is not found in Protestant Bibles.

In today’s first reading, we hear that keeping the commandments and acting faithfully are choices we make.  When Jesus says in today’s Gospel that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, Jesus is talking about teaching us the right attitude and disposition in how we keep the commandments and act faithfully.  Jesus is not calling us to a new law but to a new way of life by teaching that the commandments must be perceived at a deeper level.

Jesus is offering us the choice to either be like the scribes and Pharisees, who look for loopholes in the commandments or who issue judgments on others without consideration of their circumstances or keep the commandments to keep up appearances.  The scribes and Pharisees, who keep God’s laws without regard for God’s love, justice and mercy, are not acting out of righteousness but unfaithfulness.  They see evil where it does not exist.  Yet they minimize their own wicked intentions. 
 
On the other hand, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is presenting us with a second choice:  to go beyond the letter of the law and commandments to their spirit and intent.   For example, not only those who commit murder have broken the sixth commandment but those who harbour anger, ill will, or utter abusive words towards another are guilty of breaking this commandment.  Jesus isn’t saying here that we can’t get angry with one another but that we’re not to be physically or verbally or in any way abusive.  We are not to let our anger fester.  Remember, one way of looking at sin is to be out of right relationship with God, our neighbour or ourselves.  So we are to re-establish right relationships before we can offer our gifts at the altar. 

Similarly, in Jesus’ ministry, women were not seen as evil seductresses to be avoided, but welcomed as sisters.  So Jesus is not saying that it is a sin for a man to look at a woman but that it is wrong to look at women with lustful intentions and desires.  The new relationship with women among Jesus’ followers required that his followers look at each other with love rather than lust; and, that men view women with respect as equals rather than as objects of their desires.

Jesus next prohibition on divorce must be looked at in context. In Palestinian Jewish society, women did not have the right to divorce.  But a man could divorce his wife, as it says in Deuteronomy 24:1, because “she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her.”  So, here Jesus is asking us to go behind the regulation of divorce to understand God’s intention regarding marriage.  The implicit assumption of what Jesus is saying is that God intended monogamy, not serial polygamy.  Biblical scholar, Douglas O’Hare, suggests that while Jesus is stating God’s best case scernario regarding marriage, he knows

there are numerous instances in which a marriage is no longer real, whether because of infidelity, neglect, abuse, failure to communicate, or simply unresolved tensions regarding reciprocal expectations.  While every effort should be made to redeem fractured marriages, some must be acknowledged as beyond repair[i]. 

When a married couple can’t help each other grow emotionally and spiritually, divorce may be a positive step.   

The last prohibition that Jesus refers to is in relation to Leviticus 19:12, “And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God…”  To get around this prohibition on swearing by God or God’s name, people would swear by heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem or their own heads.  Jesus is not contradicting the prohibition on swearing falsely but points beyond it.  Jesus is saying that God’s will for us is to be absolutely truthful in our words and faithful to our commitments.  When we exercise such truthfulness and faithfulness, no oath can enhance either. When Jesus says, “Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one,” he is telling us that oaths make the truth suspect, whatever detracts from the truth is not from God.

At the deepest level, today’s Gospel is about right relationships through living, not just the letter of the law but deeper.  We must live the spirit of the commandments.  It is prompting us to understand that Jesus’ command to love God and neighbour is the key to the commandments and to Scripture.

Please share your thoughts. 



[i] Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993, p. 54

THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD – 2 FEBRUARY 2014



Shared Homily Starter


First Reading:            Malachi 3:1-4
Second Reading:       Hebrews 2:10-18
Gospel:                       Luke 2:22-40


One could look at today’s Gospel as suggesting that only a favoured few can perceive Jesus’ true nature and mission.  You might be tempted to think that only people who are able to perceive Jesus as a light for God’s revelation to the world are those who are righteous and devout like Simeon and those who fast and pray night and day like Anna. 

Looking at the Gospel that way is limiting in several respects.  It limits Jesus experience as a human being; it limits his mission as God’s messenger; and it limits our ability to see the depths of God’s love for us.  As a human being, we can infer from the Gospel that Jesus had to grow into strength and wisdom, just like us.  He had to learn who, he really was.  His mission is to teach us who and whose we really are.  

All three readings make clear that he didn’t come for the perfect but for the imperfect.  What need does pure gold or silver need of refining?  He didn’t come to help angels but the descendants of Abraham and to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. 

Paul says, “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God…”  Jesus’ presentation at the temple to be purified signifies for us that, although he is God’s divine messenger, he is willing to undergo purification, just like us whom he calls his sisters and brothers.  Further, Francis tells us, that when we embrace our humanity, our suffering, limitation, vulnerability and weakness, we follow in the footsteps of Christ.[1]  Jesus Christ who is God, so loved us that he took on our human condition so that we might come to know the God. 

One could say that Jesus is our fuller and his life, teachings, death and resurrection are his fullers’ soap.

A fuller was someone who cleaned and thickened or made full freshly-woven woollen cloth. The process involved cleaning, bleaching, wetting and beating the fibres to a consistent and desirable condition.  Fuller's soap was an alkali made from plant ashes which [the fuller] …used to clean and full new cloth.[2]

Unlike the fuller who uses cleaning, bleaching, wetting and beating the cloth to make it full, Jesus as fuller, came to teach us compassion, that is, to teach us to help each other through our suffering and to imitate him as emissaries of God’s love. 

Jesus is the exemplar of God’s eternal and constant siding with the outcasts and therefore the inevitable encounter with the ridicule, persecution and death that comes with it.[3]  But that is not the end of the story, the resurrection is a promise from God that life and love and joy and health and peace and beauty are stronger than their opposites ─ if we will help make it so, if we will follow the way of Jesus.[4]  Jesus showed us that we are to be the hands, feet and shoulders of God to our neighbours who are suffering.  We know from the Gospels that the compassion that Jesus teaches entails action.  Jesus shows us that in the face of suffering God is with us and acts through us. 

Those who are righteous and devout like Simeon, those who fast and pray night and day like Anna, and all of us, with all our imperfections are all inheritors of the fruits of Jesus mission.  Our job as Christians is to show our acceptance and appreciation of Jesus’ love and teaching in how we treat each other and all our relations, that is, how we treat all that God created.
 


[1]               Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., Regis J. and Brady, O.F.M., Ignatius. 1982. Francis and Clare:  The Complete Works. New York:  Paulist Press, p. 68
[2] "What is fullers' soap anyway?" The Muddle in the Middle (blog), April 17, 2012. http://themuddleinthemiddle.blogspot.ca/2012/04/what-is-fullers-soap-anyway.html (accessed January 30, 2014).
[3] (2001). Life abundant: rethinking theology and economy for a planet in peril. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 179
[4] Ibid.