THEME: THE HIGHER MORAL STANDARD
READINGS: Sirach 15:15-20 / 1 Cor. 2:6-10 / Matthew 5:17-37
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today many people don’t want to hear about “dos and don’ts”. In the name of freedom and, especially, the “freedom of expression”, many people want to do things the way they feel it is “good”. On the other hand, they are careful in following the “dos and don’ts” in the manuals of their expensive phones, TVs, cars, etc. Why? Because they don’t want to damage their phones, TVs, etc. Similarly, because God doesn’t want us to destroy the precious life which He has given us, He gives us His commandments (dos and don’ts of life) to follow.
- THE DEMAND OF A HIGHER SPIRITUALITY
Entry into the Kingdom of Heaven requires a higher spirituality. Hence, our Lord Jesus Christ declares: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
In the beatitudes (the gospel reading of two Sundays ago), Jesus outlined some of the key features of this higher spirituality. We have to be poor in spirit, pure in heart, meek, merciful, peacemakers, endure persecution, mournful of the evil in the world, hunger and thirst for righteousness (cf. Matt. 5:3-12). Such a spirituality will make us influence the world like salt and shine with the light of Christ (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; read last Sunday).
This higher spirituality demands a higher moral standard. It demands a moral standard higher than the one prescribed by Moses and the prophets of old. Hence, our Lord says that He has come to fulfill the Law and prophets (cf. Matt. 5:17). The Lord’s moral standard is higher, as it goes beyond the letter of the commandments to their spirit (cf. Matt. 5:17-48). That is, we are to obey not just the letter of the commandments (something the scribes and Pharisees were good at doing), but most importantly satisfy God’s intentions or purposes for them.
Who else is better placed to reveal the spirit of the commandments than Jesus, the Son of God, who is “the way and the truth and the life”, and without whom no one can go to the Father (John 14:6)? Let us now consider three of the commandments Jesus used to elucidate His points.
- YOU SHALL NOT KILL
Before the first ever human was created, God purposed that each of us will be His “image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Each human person, therefore, has an intrinsic or a God-given dignity from the moment of conception. This, at the same time, is the basis of the sacredness of every human life which cannot be violated until natural death. Moreover, Christians believe that the redemption wrought by Jesus elevates the dignity of humans and the sacredness of their lives beyond measure. For these reasons, not only are we strictly prohibited from physically killing a human being, but any action (e.g., anger, insults, etc.) which disrespects or violates the “image and likeness” of God must be strictly avoided.
Therefore, how can we bring an offering to God at a time we have trampled down His “image and likeness” through anger, insults, quarrels, etc.? Let us abandon our offering and go for reconciliation with God’s “image and likeness”, and then return to fittingly worship Him.
- YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
Firstly, God is supreme holiness or absolute purity. And so, as His “image and likeness”, He purposed that we relate with Him in holiness and with one another in purity, even before He created the world (cf. Eph. 1:4). Purity of mind and heart is, therefore, essential in the relationships between males and females. Hence, not only is an affair between a man and a woman who are not a married couple sinful, but even the impure thoughts and lustful desires are sinful.
Secondly, the pure marriage is between a man and a woman. Any other arrangements are, therefore, sinful, as they go against God’s purposes for marriage, including fruitfulness (cf. Gen. 1:27-28).
Thirdly, God is an absolute and eternal unity of three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hence, He purposed that the union of a man and a woman, created in His image and likeness, to be permanent or lifelong. This indissoluble nature of marriage is that which is demonstrated by the creation of Eve from the ribs of Adam (cf. Gen. 2:18-24).
- YOU SHALL NOT SWEAR FALSELY
God is ever faithful (cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; Lam. 3:23). Firstly, His word accomplishes His intentions. For instance, when He said, “Let there be light”, light instantly appeared (Gen. 1:3). Secondly, He is always true to His word. That is, He fulfills His promises. Therefore, created in His image and likeness, He demands that we are true to our words or the witnesses we bear. That is, our “yes” should be “yes” and our “no” be “no”.
Whereas, therefore, it is sinful to tell lies, it more offensive to God if we use His name or anything He has created to disguise verbal pretense.
Entry into God’s Kingdom requires the highest form of spirituality. This, in turn, demands a higher moral standard. That is, we are to obey not only the letter of the commandments but God’s intentions and purposes behind them. May He grant us the grace to live by His high moral standard. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John K. Louis