Friends, even a cursory look at the Scriptures for this week lets us know that each of us is called to goodness—a real rallying cry I think given all that is coming out of Washington these days. We are given life—a wonderful gift and opportunity, to make choices that hopefully will reflect our best selves, not only for our own selves, but for others. Our first reading from Sirach is a set of proverbs—“before [us] are life and death, whichever we choose will be given [us].” The writer of Sirach makes it very clear, the choice is ours. The intent is that certainly we will choose the good, the right. The writer says, “No one is commanded to sin, none are given strength for lies.” In other words, one has to work hard at being a liar.
The psalm response affirms the choice for goodness—“Happy are they who walk in your law”—happy are they whose way is blameless.” Our prayer is one for strength that we may do what is right—“give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart,” the psalmist prays.
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians makes it clear that we, as followers of Jesus, the Christ, are called to more than this world asks of us—he speaks of a wisdom that comes from the Spirit and is held by the spiritually mature.” Jesus of course, had this wisdom—he lived life from his heart and that is the step each of us much discern and put into practice—we start with the law, but that is only the start. Often, laws are established to guide and instruct—to give order to life. But laws can be short-sighted, self-serving—thus Jesus calls us to a higher law—the law to love.
In today’s gospel he fine tunes what this law to love is really all about. Jesus was constantly being challenged in his life of preaching and teaching by the Pharisees who said he was trying to subvert the law. He responds that he does not mean to do away with even one letter of the law, only to open it up to include everyone. The law speaks clearly on the black and white issues—do not kill—Jesus challenges the Pharisees and us to realize that we can also “kill” with our words—with our actions that exclude, with actions that say, one is better than another—one is more worthy.
The laws concerning divorce and remarriage are a case in point. Those who have written about this dichotomy in Jesus’ time make the point that the marriage and divorce laws were very one-sided, favoring men, and that a man could divorce a woman for little or no reason.
Because women had no standing in that society; there was no recourse for them. Becoming divorced put a woman and her children in great jeopardy, especially if she had no family to return to. There were no social programs for needy women and their children. So much of the seeming harshness in Jesus’ words today concerning divorce and re-marriage was aimed at the men, accusing and convicting them of greed, lust and taking care of only themselves.
“The woman caught in adultery” may have resulted from a woman having been ill-used in a marriage contract and needing to take care of herself, turned to the only possibility open to her—Scripture doesn’t tell us who it is who is committing the adultery—that is why Jesus brings some even-ness to that situation and doesn’t join the crowd in condemning her. He simply encourages her to choose more wisely. Jesus is advocating here for the law, but he is calling the people of his time and us to so much more—to the law of love and understanding.
Women over time have struggled with this very text from Matthew when it comes to needing to leave a marriage and then subsequently choosing to marry again. It is important to remember that we cannot always take Jesus’ words literally; that it is so important for us to understand the context in which they were delivered. We need to realize that Jesus’ messages have deeper meanings than what are at first apparent.
He was always about equality—what was good for the men, was also to be applied for the women—a revolutionary idea! Jesus, of course, set the standard and was a man of the law; but the “more” that he advocated for, was the law to love, to understand, to extend compassion. Certainly our loving God intended compassion and understanding to be applied here, with marriage laws and everything else—laws are not for the sake of laws, but for the good of people and when laws don’t bring about the gifts of the Spirit, peace, joy, mercy and so on, in the religious sense or what is best for the majority of people in the civil sense; they need to be looked at!
So friends, we are called to follow the law of love, ultimately, but there is the caution—living out this higher law will not necessarily make our lives easier and in fact, may make our lives uncomfortable at times. Jesus, our brother, was not understood in his time—he asked too much apparently of the holders of the law and they responded by attempting to silence him. We saw the same thing in our Congress on Wednesday, in the person of Senator Elizabeth Warren. We know though that the mystery of Jesus, which is our hope, is that his death was not the end, but led to life—life in abundance. Paul speaks of this life today: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love God.”
Last week we talked about how it isn’t the big things that we are necessarily called to in our daily lives in the attempt to live as Jesus’ followers; just the simple, everyday things—the reaching out in the ways that we can.
Many have been very discouraged by what we see coming out of Washington these days—the untruths, the selfishness for the so-called, “needs of this country” over and above the needs of the world in which we live, under the guise of national security—targeting the innocent because of race and religion. The slashing of programs that support the arts, the filling of cabinet positions that will work against the free education of all of our children, against all the deliberate work of the past years to make our country and primarily our schools safer from gun violence, against measures to uplift all our people of color, our women, and the list continues with each passing day.
We have our task set out for us friends. Call your senators and representatives—don’t tire in making your voices heard—attend every march, every demonstration—this is way beyond political—it is becoming about the integrity of our country, but more importantly, our integrity as individuals, as Christians—as followers of our brother, Jesus.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, in confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama for Attorney General, was silenced on Wednesday when she tried to share Coretta Scott King’s letter from 1986 speaking against then Senator Jeff Sessions’ bid for a federal judgeship in Alabama. King’s objection was due to his record of racism in his dealings with the black population, trying to keep them from voting. There is no reason to believe that he has changed in his thinking so Senator Warren felt the testimony of Coretta Scott King was still valid.
The Republicans, in the person of Mitch McConnell silenced her temporarily. She then took her message outside the Senate chambers and went live on Facebook reaching nearly two million people and that continues daily as her prophetic witness goes on. Elizabeth Warren is a powerful example for each of us. The prophet Sirach reminds us; we must choose between life and death.
Mother Teresa, loved by many for her ministry among the poor and sick in Calcutta, often quoted from Damien of Molokai, “We may not do great things in our lives, but we live fully in doing small things with great love!” I know many of your stories and of how you do just that, day in and day out, giving where you can, giving as your faith calls you, reaching out in small, but most significant ways and you are making a difference! We must never become disappointed, but keep struggling on, doing what we know to be right.
So, we are brought back to our Scriptures today. We, each of us, have the freedom to choose how our life will be—we can choose life or death and that choice will sometimes mean our life won’t always be comfortable. But our lives will always be meaningful if we react to what life presents us, from the heart. The question that we must always ask—is this action that I am doing bettering the life of anyone? If we can answer, “yes,” routinely responding from the heart, we will be choosing life in all its abundance. May God bless each of us in our choices!