In today’s First Reading Sirach reminds us that our life, from here to eternity, is built on our choices. The Lord created us as free beings, but with freedom comes responsibility. We always have to “own” what we have done and what we have failed to do, which is why we make a Penitential Act at the start of every celebration of the Eucharist. Sirach doesn’t just remind us today that we’re free to choose; he encourages us to make the right choices. God’s commandments reflect God’s wisdom, and that not only makes them good choices, but the best choices, even if sometimes in the uncertainty of faith we have to trust in God in making his choices our choices.
In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that our choices shouldn’t be done just out of obligation, but out of love. They have to be choices made from the heart or they’ll never achieve their full potential.The world has a wisdom to it, but its surface has to be scratched to realize how superficial that wisdom can be. Sometimes scratching below the surface reveals “wisdom” to be folly. The best attitude of a wise man is to acknowledge how much he doesn’t know. That’s what makes him always continue to seek wisdom. Wisdom is not just an accumulation of information; it is an insight into the big picture. God not only has the big picture, he “painted” it, and he unveils it little by little if we pay attention and seek to learn. However, Paul gives us a shortcut to getting the big picture: love. We’ve been created by God out of love and all he wants in return is our love. He wants it, but love is incredible in that you can’t make someone love you: it’s the greatest and freest choice you can make. A hint of coercion and it’s not love. Nobody who has chosen not to love is every truly happy.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that all the commandments have a purpose and reflect a wisdom that can shape our lives for the better if we choose to observe them from the heart. In his discourse he is also calling out those who observe the commandments superficially and without heart. God doesn’t do anything pointless; everything is part of his loving plan for us. He hasn’t come to simply discard the old covenant, the “law and the prophets,” as never having had any purpose at all. Rather, he puts the old covenant’s purpose into context. In his own words he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.
A common recurring defense today for a watered down life ethic is, “hey, at least I’m not killing anybody.” Our Lord reminds us that not killing anybody is good, but we have to go way beyond that if we don’t want to be Pharisaical. When we can say, “hey, at least I don’t hate anybody,” we’re getting closer to the mark. In a violent world maybe sometimes we look the other way in the face of a lack of kindness, but Our Lord today reminds us to go the distance and not only not kill anybody, but to actually be kind to everybody. When tempers flare and rash words are said the best thing to do, as Our Lord teaches, is to try to make amends as soon as possible and simply apologize. If we live a life of cruel and cold justice, focusing especially on the justice due to us, we’ll be in for a surprise when the eternal Judge brings us to “court” by the same harsh standards to which we held others. As Our Lord’s prayer reminds us, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Our Lord teaches us that chastity starts in the heart. The eyes are the windows to our soul, and if we start ogling and fantasizing a radical response is needed if we are to preserve our chastity and keep our hearts pure, since no one can intervene regarding the hidden desires of the heart except ourselves.
Our Lord reminds us that making a promise or giving testimony is a powerful thing. The promises we make give witness to who we are, and the witness we give is a testimony to how seriously we take our promises. We’ve all experienced how unedifying it is when someone swears something to be true, promises to deliver on something, and then is revealed to have lied or fails to deliver, and not just because of circumstances beyond their control.
When something is as simple as “Yes” or “No,” as Our Lord teaches us today, there’s no room for spin, for sophistry, for fine print, or for establishing little grey areas in our conscience instead of admitting we can or can’t deliver on something or whether we know or don’t know something. Our Lord gives a laundry list of things the people of his day were using as collateral to show how serious they were about the oaths they made. He also puts his finger on the problem: that collateral is not theirs, nor is it under their control. It’s not as common today, but when someone swears “on my life,” or any other number of things or people, we are put on a guard, exactly because they are swearing on something over which they have no control or ownership and usually as a way of convincing others of their sincerity.
A good choice is a wise choice. Let the wisdom of Our Lord shape all your decisions and your life will be a blessing.
Readings: Sirach 15:15–20; Psalm 119:1–2, 4–5, 17–18, 33–34; 1 Corinthians 2:6–10; Matthew 5:17–37. See also 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II, 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II, and 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.