God's commandments give us guidance in living a good life

  • February 1, 2011
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Feb. 13 (Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)

“It’s not my fault!” Humans are experts at placing blame everywhere but where it belongs. When they do stupid or wicked things it is far easier to find something or someone to blame than to accept responsibility.

But Sirach will have none of this. His work is part of an Old Testament theological tradition scholars call the “two-ways” spirituality. People are presented with two ways — one leads to life and happiness, the other to destruction and death. On Ash Wednesday we begin Lent with a two-ways passage from Deuteronomy. We are always urged to choose the first but sadly, as our world attests, many choose the latter. People blame society, their circumstances, other people, genetics or even God. But Sirach is clear: we always have a choice. All of these other influences are certainly present and they can sometimes be very powerful, but in the end nothing can trump the human will.

The commandments that we have been given are not capricious or arbitrary, nor are they ends in themselves. They are there to support and assist us in our quest to become fully developed human beings. As individuals we are given opportunities each day to choose between life and death. But at this point in our history humanity is also presented with some major choices that will have a major impact on our collective future. We can hope and pray that we can make the right choices — those that lead to life — rather than those based on fear or selfishness.

People consistently underestimate God’s presence in their lives and the extent of the divine gifts they can receive. Humans try their best to project their own violence and fear on God and to use God for their own agendas. The biggest human conceit is the claim to understand and be privy to God’s ways and to be certain of the divine will. We are so fortunate that God is utterly unlike us. When God finally reveals His intentions and thoughts to us they always come as a huge shock, nothing we would ever have dreamed up! But that is not all — for those who open their minds and hearts to God the divine gifts are beyond imagining. God is not an idea or theological concept but a universal loving force who invites us into a relationship.  

In some parts of the New Testament Jesus is portrayed as being rather dismissive towards the Jewish Law. But Matthew, who depicts Jesus as a second Moses and master of the Jewish tradition, tells a completely different story. The Law is still very much in force; in fact, Matthew’s Jesus not only affirms the Law but raises the bar considerably. It is not enough to refrain from outright murder. That is a good start, but there is so much more to being a righteous or spiritual person than merely avoiding heinous crimes. Jesus commands His followers to go to the root of the human problem: the anger, hatred and violence that exist within us. Our behaviour manifests this through murderous thoughts, harsh words, insults and other forms of aggression.

This is not news to anyone who has driven a car through heavy rush hour traffic or been caught up in office politics. Anger, resentment and fear are at the root of most violence and damaged relationships and can be described as cancer of the soul. Forgiveness is an important step in healing ourselves and is inseparable from our relationship with God. Jesus places before us the choice between life and death. We are responsible for the world that we experience. If we do not feel the presence of God as much as we would like the problem might be the thoughts, attitudes and emotions we carry within us. It is useless to rail against the violence and negativity of the world if we are part of the problem. There is far more to our faith than merely being a “good” person or achieving the spiritual minimum.

The fulfillment of the Law is love — in all times, places and situations. It is only by stretching our minds and hearts and displaying at least a measure of the characteristics of God that we become who we were meant to be and make a positive difference in the world.

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