February 7, 2017 // Columns
God gives us the power of choice
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Sirach, the source of this weekend’s first reading, is part of a collection of biblical writings that in their very origin teach an important lesson.
As various political, economic and individual fortunes changed, collapsed and reversed among God’s people in the decades after the Babylonian captivity, and as new alien empires seized the Holy Land, Jews emigrated from the homeland of their ancestors to other places.
Understandably, many went to places where opportunities were more plentiful.
While certainly some of these emigrants not only survived, but possibly did well in their new surroundings, one thing was lacking. They were not living in a society in which all acknowledged the God of Israel. In fact, their adopted culture well could be hostile to the ancient Hebrew tradition.
So, to record their ancient religious beliefs, and very importantly to pass these beliefs along to oncoming generations, Jewish scholars composed books such as Sirach.
The essential point in Sirach was that human reason and honoring God are not ideas at odds with each other. Obeying God, logic can prove, is the way to order, peace, justice and reward in human life.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading. Paul, who would have been no stranger to this notion of a compatibility between divine revelation and human wisdom, as he was so well trained in Judaism but also exposed to Greek philosophy, added a new dimension to the story. Revelation is of a reality that human knowledge often cannot comprehend.
He refers to “hidden wisdom” and “mystery”. We as humans simply cannot understand all. In great love, God, therefore, has revealed to us what otherwise we would never know.
The Gospel reading is from St. Matthew. The Lord expounds on the meaning of several of these rules for life given by God to Moses on Sinai.
This process reveals two important factors. The first is that God’s law is permanent and unchanging. This is logical. It touches very basic instincts and conditions among humans, all attached deeply and intrinsically to human nature itself, and as such it is not open to qualifications or to changes that humans might wish to make.
Secondly, here the Lord speaks with authority. He defines and explains the law of Moses. Jews did not regard the law of Moses as merely a set of principles personally composed by Moses. Rather, Moses was the medium through which God revealed the divine law to humanity. God is the author of the divine law. He is the author of the Commandments. He is the lawgiver.
By defining and making more precise this law, the Lord acts as God. It is an important revelation of the identity of Jesus.
This weekend looks to the past weeks and feasts as background, and it looks ahead. In both cases it confronts us with the realities of our nature. It places us in relationship with God. It shows us that God loves us with a divine love.
At Christmas, the Epiphany and at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, the church celebrated the events of salvation achieved for us by Christ, but it also told us about the Lord. It identified the Lord.
In these readings, the church tells us that to wander away from God’s law and follow our instincts or our limited reasoning is folly. Humans, impaired by original sin, always have trouble understanding this lesson.
Before too long, the church will lead us into Lent. It will be a time in which we strengthen ourselves to know our limitations and conform ourselves to what we are — human beings. But we are humans destined for eternal life with God, in Jesus.
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