God's Word on Sunday: We can’t blame God for our choices

  • February 9, 2020

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 16 (Year A) Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

Freedom is a two-edged sword, for with freedom comes responsibility. 

This is something that humans have always had difficulty accepting. It is far easier to blame others or circumstances for our negative behaviour than to admit fault. 

People offer a barrage of excuses for negative and harmful deeds and attitudes. Often people prefer strong leaders or political and religious ideologies to tell them what to do or think. It is easier than discerning and making choices for in this case there are none. Despite the fact that “I was only following orders” has been repeatedly disqualified as a valid defence, it persists to this day. 

Sirach was written a couple of centuries before Christ and reflects an important current in the Jewish theology of the age that is sometimes called “two-way” spirituality. We find it in Deuteronomy and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as in the Gospels and early Christian literature. 

This spirituality is very clear — God places before us each day choices between the way of life and the way of death. We are completely free — we can choose the negative path if we wish, but then we meet the consequences. 

God is always very clear that although we have freedom, God fervently wishes for us to choose life. We can never blame God and although we may have been dealt a very bad hand in this life, nothing can take away our freedom to choose. 

Some might object that life is not so stark and simple. Seldom are we called upon to make choices as dramatic or clear-cut as good and evil, life and death. There are untold numbers of smaller choices and sometimes there is a fair degree of ambiguity or mitigating circumstances. Fair enough, but the principle of choice still stands. 

We might wish to think of these choices as helpful or unhelpful in our own spiritual growth and our impact on other people. But whatever choices we make, we have to own them — no excuses. We know the way of the Lord and we are blessed if we walk in that path.

God’s wisdom and the way of the world — what passes for wisdom and skill — are two very different things. Worldly wisdom makes many compromises and many terrible things are done in the name of political or economic expediency. Religion has not been blameless, for the pages of our history are stained with blood spilled with religious “justification.”

Seeking God’s wisdom and living by it runs the risk of placing one in opposition to the world, but it is a risk well worth taking. Human moral and spiritual progress only occur when individuals are willing to challenge the “conventional wisdom” and the status quo.

The Law of God is eternal and Jesus had no interest in annulling or altering it. In His ministry He merely emphasized certain things and gave people a deeper understanding. Here Jesus assures them that the Law is still in force and will remain so. 

If anything, He raised the bar, telling His followers that they had to do far better than the Law’s official representatives. It is not enough to avoid murder and adultery, although that would be an excellent start. 

Jesus challenged us to go to the root of human evil, which is the heart and mind. Even if we repress negative deeds, if we harbour murderous and hateful thoughts, they will eventually be expressed physically. Cursing, insulting and denigrating another is a form of murder against the image of God within them. When we gaze upon others lustfully, we have already dishonoured them and it can affect how we treat them. 

We shouldn’t be surprised at the state of our world: The images and words that flow into our psyches daily from the media and “entertainment” industry consists of violence, fear, bigotry and exploitive sexuality. Our own choice between the ways of life and death begin by being vigilant gatekeepers of our ears, eyes and mouth. 

The teaching of Jesus continues its challenge — enough for a lifetime — by exhorting us to be truthful in our speech and eager to heal the rifts we might have with other people. We are not helpless. If we want a different world, we must begin with ourselves. Others will follow.