Today the gospel continues with the Sermon on the Mount – see below. The following is the essence of my homily.
When I was younger there was pop song that was entitled I FOUGHT THE LAW AND THE LAW WON! It sums up our negative and adversarial attitude to law. It restricts our sense of freedom and capacity to do our own thing. We keep the law grudgingly because we don’t like the penalties. We don’t drink & drive and speed because we don’t want the embarrassment of going to court, paying a fine and having points on our licence.
Be that as it may, from a Christian perspective, there is a much higher motive to keeping the law and living a moral life – namely, to uphold our Christian dignity. This is a dignity that comes baptism: from having God as our Father, Jesus as our brother and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
If we were to be adopted in the royal family of Queen Elizabeth, we would have to seriously raise our ‘game’! We would need to take 2 showers a day in case there was any whiff of body odour; we would need to start from scratch with our wardrobe (my hoodie would be definitely OUT!); we would need elocution classes to perfect our speech; classes on table manners; lessons on not causing scandal in what we say or do, etc.
Yet, if the truth be known, when we were baptised into the Holy Trinity, we received an incomparably greater dignity as compared with adoption into any earthly royal family.
This is all evident in the baptismal ceremony. After the pouring of water, we received an anointing on our heads with holy oil. This is a coronation ceremony signifying that we are truly princes and princesses given that we have a Father in God – the true King of the Universe. Afterwards we receive a white garment that signifies our purity and freedom from sin – original, and in the case of older candidates, actual sin. Finally we receive a lighted candle which represents the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the new life of the Resurrection.
The only thing that can drive out the Holy Spirit from our souls is mortal sin which is a deliberate rejection of God.
All of what we have been hearing about in the Sermon on the Mount is about preserving this great dignity. Jesus doesn’t say we have to take 2 showers a day or learn posh manners but he does say that we have to pay close attention to the following 3 teachings.
Firstly Jesus says that we must not nurse anger or bad-mouth our brothers and sisters in Christ. He is very strong on this: “I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire.”
God our Father wants us to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as our natural fathers wanted peace and harmony among his sons and daughters. Every time we say the OUR FATHER we remember that God’s forgiveness of our sins is conditional on us forgiving others their offences: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Jesus’ second point is about purity and the Sixth Commandment. We preserve our Christian dignity by respecting the sacredness of our sexuality and marriage vows: “I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I’m sure the reverse is true too – if a woman looks lustfully at a man. It goes without saying that there is much to avoid on today’s trashy TV and other media if we are to preserve the inner purity of our hearts.
Later Jesus says in this same passage: “I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife… makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” This teaches us that God does not recognise civil divorce even though it is much a part of modern living as the ground we walk on. On another occasion I will speak about the Church’s teaching on marriage annulment. If anybody has any concerns about this or anything that I say on Sundays, please feel free to contact me.
Thirdly we live up to our Christian dignity by respecting the truth and not playing games with it. As Jesus said: “All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” It is clear that if we tell lies that we are yielding to the evil one. As my dear granny would remind us: Tell the truth and shame the devil!
We must respect the truth across the board – in our dealings with family and friends, employers / employees, and the government with regard to paying taxes and our entitlements.
Most importantly we need to be truthful with God. When parents present children for baptism, First Communion and Confirmation, I am at pains to point out that they are making sacred promises to God. These promises involve bringing the children to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, praying with them and teaching them to respect God’s Commandments by the way they live their own lives.
In Summary: A higher purpose for living a moral, law-abiding life is to respect our human dignity. Today’s gospel commends us to seek reconciliation with the other members of God’s household, to respect our sexuality and marriage vows, and to respect the truth.
########### TODAY’S GOSPEL #######################
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will pnswer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.
‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.
‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’