Sunday Sermon for February 12, 2023, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Sir 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37
In the first reading, the wise man, Sirach, tells us that if we choose, we can keep the commandments. With the help of God’s grace, we have the ability to keep the commandments, but the question is whether or not it is our will to do so. I remember speaking with a person who had a habitual area of sin. The individual would do well for a while, but then fall again. After this occurred a number of times, the person’s spiritual director said, “You don’t want to get rid of this sin.”
This is difficult to hear, but it is the truth. On one hand, we certainly want the sin to be gone, but at a deeper level we are attached to the sin, for whatever reason, and we do not really want it gone completely. This is why Sirach can say definitively that if we choose, we can keep God’s commandments.
This is a choice we must make. Every person must choose whom they will serve. I am always amazed at how diligently people who choose to serve Satan pursue their choice. At the same time, I am frequently saddened by how poorly Christian people choose to serve their Lord, Jesus Christ.
Sirach does not stop by simply telling us that we can choose to live by God’s Word, he then gives us a context to help us recognize the gravity of our choice. He says the Lord has put before us fire and water and to whichever we choose, we can reach out our hand. Life and death, he says, as well as good and evil, are placed before us and whichever we choose will be given to us.
So, when Jesus tells us that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we can now see clearly what He means. A person can choose to live a moral lifestyle, completely apart from faith. A priest friend of mine called these people “ethical pagans,” because they do not believe in God, but still try to live a moral life. Even those who profess belief in God can live according to the commandments simply because it is a good way to live, because we can see the advantage of doing so, because we want to impress others, because we associate with a group of people who are good and we want to fit in, etc. In other words, we can do the right thing, but not for the best reason.
We want to keep the commandments because of our love for God. We hear in the Gospel how our Lord takes the Jewish laws and brings them to a deeper level. Once again, if we are going to be true to our faith, we cannot just go through the motions of doing what is right, we want to do the right thing because we love God and neighbor.
This love, which comes from God, is really the wisdom St. Paul refers to in the second reading. It is a wisdom that is hidden and mysterious because it is a wisdom that is known only by those who have experienced the love of God. When a person loves the Lord, that love will result in service to the Lord. We all know the traditional Church teaching that we are to know, love, and serve the Lord. We can easily see how this applies to what is being presented today.
When it comes to the commandments, we know what they say. As mentioned above, we can choose to follow these commandments simply because they are reasonable and make sense to us. But far better for us is if we love the One Who gave the commandments. We will want to follow them because they are an expression of His love and His will. They are still reasonable, but now we have a deeper motive for why we would want to put the commandments into practice. This practice is one of serving God rather than doing the right thing just because it makes sense or benefits us.
Love is not content to do the minimum; love always wants to do more for the Beloved. We notice the motive here: it is for the good of the other, not of the self. This is the mysterious and hidden aspect of God’s wisdom: it is not in the head, but in the heart. God dwells in the deepest center of our being. Only love can bring us there.
So, the choice is not to simply enter into this deepest center, because we cannot. The choice is to love the Lord, and as we grow in love, we will move more and more toward that center. The more we love, the more righteous we become. This is the result of choosing goodness, life, and love.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.