Homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014
One strong message in our gospel today is the truth that following Christ is not that easy. As I have already mentioned many times before, being a Christian is not always walking on a red carpet or sleeping in a bed of roses. Following Christ always points us and leads us to the foot of the cross. There is a cost to discipleship.
One cost of discipleship is the challenge thrown by Jesus to us in our gospel today when he said: ‘If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.’ (Mt 5:20)
To take this as our challenge we need to know and understand the things the scribes and Pharisees do.
The scribes and Pharisees know so much about the law- the commandments of God. They know them by heart, which is good and commendable thing, but the problem is that they ‘twisted them’, they interpreted the law according to their own personal interests and ambitions. This is what Pope Francis describes as ‘Spiritual wordliness’ in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). “Spiritual wordliness’ the pope explains is that ‘which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, [but] consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being’ (EG93).
The scribes and Pharisees missed the whole point of the commandments of God- which is to establish & enhance human relationships and promote real and personal relationships with God. They interpreted the law in a way that suits their whims and desires to the point that it creates walls instead of bridges. Their interpretation creates gap between people rather than building relationships. So Jesus had to stand up against this misinterpretation of the law because this is not what God his Father has intended to be when he gave us the law. Jesus had to re-interpret for them the spirit of the law by reminding them that he comes ‘not to abolish the law but to complete it.’ (Mt 5: Just by looking at the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus we can see how much He carried out in his life the spirit, the meaning of the law that is meant to establish, nourish and sustain relationships, to promote love and forgiveness, compassion and justice, respect and appreciation of the dignity of each human being. In today’s gospel Jesus is inviting us to go back to the basic of things. He is urging us to go to the heart of the matter.
Going back to the heart of who we are and what we are called to do as Christians means that we, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, build bridges instead of putting up walls or as Pope Francis would say, not to ‘give in to the temptation to build fences to make us feel safer, more protected.’ (Pope Francis, Angelus Message, Sunday, 26 January 2014)
The scribes and Pharisees built walls. But Jesus Christ has broken down the wall and created bridges. As followers of Christ, we must also create bridges that connects us to one another, to God and to help connect others to God.
We can do this by imitating Christ in his way of relating with sinners and with those in need. When sinners came to him, He didn’t condemn them. Instead, he offers them hope and light by forgiving them and giving them another chance. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just wait for the sinners to come to him. He went to them– to us. He searches for us and offered us reconciliation. He ate with sinners, mingled with us, not to tolerate our bad behaviour and actions but to show us that there is a way out of our sinfulness and that He is always ready to forgive us, and that He is rich in mercy and compassion.
But there is more. It is also our call, not only that we be forgiving to those who have wronged us but also be instruments of reconciliation ourselves. Jesus is strong in this when he said in the gospel: ‘When you are offering your gift at the altar, if your remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift…and go…be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come offer your gift.’ (Mt 5:23-24)
And more, when the sick and needy came to him, Jesus didn’t turn them away. He didn’t ask his disciples to get rid of those sick and needy people. Instead he did all he could do to respond to their needs. He showed mercy, hospitality and generosity to them. He helped the helpless. He gave hope to the seemingly hopeless and desperate ones. He didn’t look down at us when we fell in sin, rather he helped us not only to lift us up but more so to carry the burden of our sins too. Jesus has shown us this is a way to create a bridge- bridge that connects us to one another and bridge that leads us to the kingdom of God, the kingdom of life, happiness and peace.
Another way to create bridge that nourish human relationships is by constantly listening to God speaking to us and being aware of his presence in our lives. This is a challenge too because God oftentimes appear to challenge our values and attitudes. Sometimes his presence seems difficult and even unreal at times.
Last week, a heavily tattooed man came to the presbytery and asked for some money to buy fuel for his car. I thought, here we go again, typical story. And typical people who only comes in the evening when the St Vincent Centre is closed, and they would have no one to turn to but the Church. I gave it a thought for a short while, then I decided I would give him something. I gave him $20 note. Then he said, he’d come back during the week when he get paid to pay me back. I said to him: ‘Don’t bother, just pay it forward to someone that might need it.’ He thanked me and left. However, last Wednesday morning, he came to see me to pay me back, but the one who opened the door for him, didn’t know the story and couldn’t believe his story either, so she turned him away. I wasn’t really expecting him to pay me back. In fact I’m just happy that I am in the privileged position to be of help to anyone in need. But more so I believe that God has come to visit in the guise of that man and helping that person is a way for me to give back to God some of the many blessings he has showered on me.
From that experience I realized that it is very important to look at other people through the eyes of Christ- with a question: ‘What would Jesus do if He is in this situation?’
With the eyes of Christ through faith, I realize that I have become more aware of the presence of God everywhere and in everyone. The good thing about listening to God and being aware of his presence is that we become more open to the wisdom of God- that wisdom of the Lord that is ‘vast’ as noted by the Book of Ecclesiasticus/Sirach in our First Reading today. This is the wisdom that would become our source of our hope and that gives meaning in our witnessing to Christ. Being aware of God’s presence helps us catch a glimpse of those wonderful things that St Paul would describe in our Second Reading today as those ‘things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him’. (Cor 2:6-10)
The more open we are to God’s wisdom and teaching the more we learn to choose life over death, the more motivated we become, in standing up for the truth and for God, the stronger we are to choose what is life-giving (Friends, good company, good and healthy relationships, optimistic attitudes, etc) over things that kill our spirit (drugs, alcohol abuse, violence, corruption, power control, pride, arrogance, selfishness, etc.)
So let this be our point of reflection for this week: Christian discipleship has a cost to pay, the Cross, but if we stay faithful and focused on Christ till the end, we would never regret, instead we would come to realize that it is a cost worth-paying for. But for now, let us ask ourselves: How loyal are we to Christ?