God's Word on Sunday: Did I add to light or darkness today?

  • February 10, 2023

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 12 (Year A) Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

Evading responsibility for human actions is as old as humanity itself. It began in the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve pointing fingers at each other, and has continued down to our own time. We like to think of ourselves as helpless victims of forces greater than us and therefore not to blame for our negative actions. It used to be sufficient to blame the devil for everything but now we are more sophisticated. 

Genetic heritage, trauma, social injustice, upbringing, society and culture, economics and a host of other factors can be invoked with one aim in mind: I am not responsible. These factors are real and certainly have an influence on the individual, but they are not absolute or decisive. Sirach – along with practically the entire Biblical tradition – insists that we have choices and if we so desire, we can make these choices correctly. 

No external force is stronger than the human will. Our capacity to make correct choices may be compromised and weakened but never totally overcome. Sirach is expressing what scholars call the “two-way spirituality,” which is found in Deuteronomy as well as in the literature of the Dead Sea Scroll community. 

At the beginning of Lent, we are presented with two choices — life and death, water and fire — and we are free to choose. God’s hope is that we always opt for the way of life. But we have to live with the consequences of those choices and that is not always easy or pleasant. God has not forced us to sin or given us permission to do so.  

Humanity is facing life or death choices now. And there are many of them — environmental, economic, political, social, and even religious. The choices we make will determine the quality or even the possibility of life for humans for generations to come. We can have life or death, fire or water, but let us strive to choose life in all its forms each day.

 Paul sounds a bit elitist in his insistence that he speaks wisdom only among the mature. But there is a sound reason for his reticence. The wisdom that he shares with the mature is so utterly different from conventional “wisdom,” knowledge, values and worldviews that it would be shocking and even incomprehensible to most people. It is God’s wisdom and God’s revelation, and it can turn our world upside down. 

Most people sin or commit crimes out of ignorance, and Paul insists that if the rulers of this world had really understood divine wisdom, they never would have crucified Jesus. The challenge for us is to never be smug or content in what we think we know or our opinions but to always seek the wisdom of God. We might be very surprised at the results.  

Jesus made one thing clear to His listeners: He had not come to abolish the law of Israel, nor had He come to lower the bar for observance of God’s laws. In fact, He had come to raise the bar considerably — He told the people they had to outdo the Pharisees in their quest for holiness. He taught that our words, thoughts and deeds are extremely important for they indicate what kind of person we are. They are the loom upon which we weave the world in which we live. We need only look at the world around us for confirmation. 

Words have power and consequences, and so do thoughts. It is not enough to refrain from negative outward acts. Appearing squeaky clean on the outside does not count for much if our inner self is in shambles. The words that come from our mouth must match our heart. “Swearing on a stack of Bibles” is useless if we lack integrity. And forgiveness is something we must practise daily — we cannot hope to be at peace if we harbour anger and resentment against others, regardless of the reason. 

We must go within to the human mind and heart, for that is where the problem lies. Only a thorough purification and transformation will do. As we monitor our thoughts, emotions and words each day we can ask ourselves this question: Did I add to the sum total of darkness or light in the world today?