Friends, the exegesis of three years ago on today’s readings is still quite sound, so I thought I would run it by you once again. Even a cursory look at the Scriptures for this week lets us know that each of us is called to goodness and that is a real rallying cry 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, but as with all things, the more we do an action, the easier it becomes. In this regard, it is instructive to keep in mind all the lies our president has told us in the past three years.
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.” I am presently reading a new book by David Brooks, entitled, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, actually an unlikely pick for me—anything from David Brooks, in years past, as I have historically not agreed with his conservative ideas. I was drawn to it due to a PBS interview wherein he spoke about why he wrote it. Climbing to the “second mountain” seems to be for Brooks, moving toward becoming more, “spiritually mature.” In his words, “Whereas climbing to the “first mountain” was mostly about him, the “second mountain” has become about service to others.” I can’t fault him for that.
Jesus of course, had this wisdom of the Spirit that Paul talks about today, that Brooks is in search of—Jesus 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. I wanted to lift up, as we spoke of last week, that our walk with our brother Jesus is very much about responding from our hearts and not just our heads. That is the message again this week—in fact, where Jesus is concerned—that is always the message! I believe Brooks would agree that climbing the “second mountain” is about this “heart work.”
In today’s gospel Jesus fine tunes what this law to love is really all about. He 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—but 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.
In our time, we see Pope Francis doing the same regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage. As we spoke of last week—some bishops are prone to deny communion to the divorced and remarried as a punishment and Francis has said that communion should not be used that way—it is food for the hungry. Unfortunately there are present day bishops fighting him on his merciful counsel.
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—something we continue to struggle with today in Church and society. 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 changed!
So friends, we are called to follow the law of love, ultimately, but there is this caution—living out the 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 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.”
We talk much here 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 of us have been very discouraged these past three years by what we see coming out of Washington—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 free education of all of our children, the dropping of safe guards to protect the environment, our planet, making 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. We can’t tire in making our voices heard to our representatives in Washington—we need to attend marches, and demonstrations—this is way beyond political—it is truly about the integrity of our country, but more importantly, our integrity as individuals, as Christians—as followers of our brother, Jesus.
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. A clear and present example of this is All Are One’s commitment to covering the month of February with Home Delivered Meals and Michael Maher’s leadership in making this happen. Thank you to all who participated in this!
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. We think of the heroes during the impeachment trials in Washington in this regard. But our lives will always be meaningful if we react to what life presents us, ultimately, from the heart. The question that we must always ask—is this action that I am doing bettering the life of the many, rather than the few? If we can answer, “yes,” responding from the heart, on a regular basis, we will be choosing life in all its abundance. Amen? Amen!