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Scripture Reflections - February 16
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 15:15-20
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:17-37

Archives Msgr Paul E. Whitmore
Msgr. Paul E. Whitmore

Our readings this week discuss the wisdom in our choices. The writer of Sirach (formerly Ecclesiasticus), puts two choices before his audience – fire or water, life or death, just as Moses had done to the Israelites who were about to enter the Promised Land. Fire is a symbol for the Spirit which breathes life and Wisdom, while water suggests death by drowning in sin and foolishness. God never forces us but gives us hints about the preferred choice!

St. Paul, in the second reading, urges the new Christians to seek the Wisdom that comes from God’s Spirit, a divine wisdom, a mysterious wisdom planned from eternity. This wisdom urges us to embrace Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Faith in this mystery will reveal to us the meaning of following Christ to life and victory.

In the Gospel, which continues the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus amazes his listeners by declaring that He has come not to destroy the law of Moses, but to fulfill it. Then he proceeds to go beyond the law to its radical conclusion. He concentrates on two sins forbidden especially by the Law – murder and adultery. He emphasizes in practical terms the sins that lie behind the commandments. If we are to avoid murder, then we must root out the sin of anger which leads to murder. If we are to avoid adultery, we must root out the sin of lust which leads to adultery. If we want to be righteous, we must take very strenuous efforts to go beyond the law – even anger against one’s brother or sister is cause for sin. If you want to offer your gifts at the altar, “leave your gifts at the altar, and go first to be reconciled to your brother… then come and offer your gifts.” He tells his followers that when one even looks at a woman with lustful eyes, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus then departs from the literal, deliberately exaggerating his advice: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members, than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna (hell).” He says the same about sinning with your hand. Obviously, Jesus does not want us to physically carry out this advice! But we certainly get the point! The passage is a long one, forbidding divorce unless there are grounds for the invalidity of the marriage. He warns against false oaths, urging us to use simple language. “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean “no!’”

As St. Paul tells us today, Jesus’ wisdom is not the wisdom of this age, but a divine wisdom meant for those who are mature. How well we know how toxic contemporary advice often given to our young people by the media, greedy business leaders, immoral educators, and even by some parents can be. Our readings this Sunday give us strong medicine to counteract the poison of this age. It may not make us popular, but living the Gospel to the full never was!

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