12 February 2017: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 15:15-20 Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34 1 Cor 2:6-10 Mt 5:17-37

The law, the kingdom, and the challenge of discipleship

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings focus on the need of a disciple’s attitudes and actions to surpass the Law.

In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach links free will with human responsibility. God gives everyone a choice to choose good or evil; the wise person chooses to follow the Law (commandments), and therefore to choose life. Christian hearers also understand God has given us a model to follow (Jesus, God’s son). Jesus’ own choices provide a template for actions and attitudes that exceed the Law (see today’s gospel).

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul urged the Corinthians to search for something wiser than human wisdom. This week, Paul tells the Corinthians that they can grasp God’s wisdom only if they become open to the Spirit and the language that the Spirit teaches.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus challenges his disciples to go beyond the Law’s requirements and so to become more intimately aligned with God’s kingdom. The reading has three parts:

  • Jesus and the Law. Jesus makes it clear both to his disciples and to his opponents that the Law–which reveals God–stands forever. To describe his role, Jesus uses the Greek word πληρόω (play-ROH-oh), which means not only “to make complete” but “to fill or fulfill abundantly.” Jesus’ attitudes and actions complete or fulfill the picture of God already revealed in the Law.
  • Jesus’ challenge to disciples. Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees not for their desire to follow the Law, but for their focus on the Law’s proscriptions rather than its intent. The scribes and Pharisees study and follow the Law to make themselves righteous before God. Jesus’ disciples must seek God first, then live the Law.
  • Jesus’ examples of greater righteousness. Jesus corrects and expands the Law to further reveal God. He introduces each teaching with the formula: “You have heard it said…, but I say to you;” he speaks with more authority than Moses and (as God’s son) with the legal force of God. He reveals the human attitudes behind murder (anger), adultery (selfish desire), divorce (defending one’s honor/avoiding shame), and oaths (deceit). He then challenges disciples to actions that are beyond the Law’s requirements: replace anger with love and forgiveness; replace selfish desire with love; replace honor/shame with forgiveness and love; replace deceit with plain-spoken truth. Only when disciples exceed the Law’s requirements can they enter God’s kingdom.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we, as disciples, encounter God in the Law. Choosing the Law over evil is our first step. Observing the Law makes us better people. Seeking God revealed in the Law and living the beatitudes makes us disciples worthy of the kingdom. Do we see the Law as a limit to personal freedom? Do we find the Law a burden because there are too many rules? Do we encounter God in the Law by seeing our human weaknesses? Do we see the Father’s love and caring in those attitudes and actions that exceed the Law?

—Terence Sherlock

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