Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Feb 12, 2017 Views 141 Listen 4 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of Sirach (15:15-20)

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; He has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power, and all-seeing. The eyes of God are on those who fear Him; He understands man's every deed. No one does He command to act unjustly, to none does He give license to sin.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34)


(R) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who observe His decrees, who seek Him with all their heart. (R)

You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept. Oh, that I might be firm in the ways of keeping your statutes! (R)

Be good to your servant, that I may live and keep your words. Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law. (R)

Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (2:6-10)

Brothers and sisters: We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away. Rather, we speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, it they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love Him, this, God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (5:17-37)

Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, "You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment." But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, "fool", will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, "You renegade", will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce." But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife - unless the marriage is unlawful - causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, "Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow." But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the Earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your "Yes" mean "Yes", and your "No" mean "No". Anything more is from the evil one."

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

Today we continue our reflection on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. From a mountainside on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus began the sermon with a list of eight blessings from God. He said that those who humbly trust in God, those who mourn for the afflictions of others, those who are gentle and patient, those who desire righteousness, those who show mercy toward the sinners and needy, those who are pure in heart, those who seek and promote peace, and those who are willing to suffer for His gospel are the blessed people, for they are rewarded with mercy, comfort, security, peace, the presence of God and a place in heaven. And then Jesus spoke about the role of His disciples in the world. He called them the "salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" and, said their mission on earth is to preserve life, heal wounds and add flavor to the lives of others and profess their faith in God openly and engage in good works in their community for the glory of God."

Today we read the further demands made by Jesus. But before that, Jesus made it clear to His disciples that He did not come to "abolish the law or the prophets", but to "fulfill" them. Here, the word "law" is torah in Hebrew; it refers to God's teaching, guidance and instructions for living. The Torah is often understood to consist of the first five books of the Bible, but it also refers to the Scriptures in general. And the word "fulfill" is lekayem in Hebrew, it is mentioned in the Bible in various contexts. It means "to uphold", or "to complete" or "to explain". Here, Jesus came to "fulfil the law" which means that Jesus came to properly interpret the Torah so that people can obey it as God really intends.

Over the centuries, the Jews, particularly the Pharisees and Scribes had developed their own interpretations of the law to suit their own ends. Often times they used the Law quite literally and imposed burdens on others but they themselves failed to keep them. Jesus came to fulfil the law; therefore, it means that He came to give the true and full meaning of the law. And Jesus used phrases like "You have heard... but I tell you" to point out that He was not contradicting the law but explaining it. Jesus wanted to bring them, from the literal interpretation of the laws, to the spirit of the laws. He wanted them to focus not only on external evil acts but also on the internal attitudes and motives that led to such acts. He often did re-interpret or explain or add to the laws, sometimes in very radical ways. As a result, some of His teachings were very controversial. Luke writes that some people in his home town of Nazareth became so angry with Him that they tried to throw Him off a cliff, Luke (4:28-30).

In today's gospel we read four of the laws that Jesus expounded:

  • Jesus referred to the law that forbade "murder", Exodus (20:13) and explained that it includes anger, resentment and revenge, Matthew (5:21-22). He indicated that holding a grudge against others can consume a person with hatred and damage his relationship with others and God. He even gave a stern warning to those who called other people "fools" or "renegades" and said that they would be judged and condemned to hell. He recommended reconciliation first for the persons concerned, before they go and make offerings to God. For Jesus, reconciliation with God was a high priority. He died on the cross, so that we might be reconciled to God.
  • Jesus expanded the law that prohibited "adultery" to cover lustful thoughts and desires as well, Exodus (20:14), Deuteronomy (5:18) and Leviticus (18:20). He explained that not only the actual physical sexual act outside of marriage is considered a sin against the sixth commandment but also lust and the desire to do so are in themselves sins against the commandment.
  • Jesus expounded the "law of divorce", Deuteronomy (24:1), to encourage life-long fidelity between spouses and their commitment to each other and, at the same time help each other from falling into sin, Matthew (5:31-32). As a matter of fact, nowhere in the first five books is there any law which directly makes provision for divorce. However, a law addressing a particular problem of marriage in the Book of Deuteronomy has become the basis for almost all Jewish divorce laws. Divorce and remarriage were common even before the days of Moses, Deuteronomy (24:1-4). Moses did not institute "divorce", he simply regulated it to discourage hasty divorces, and to enable divorced women to remarry more easily.

    It is said that "When a man takes a woman and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house", Deuteronomy (24:1). According to this law, therefore, divorce was allowed but carefully regulated. Under God's law, the marriage contract could be dissolved only if there was a real cause for a certificate of divorce. Jesus also, therefore, forbade divorce except in the case of unlawful marriages but further added that divorce and remarriage are tantamount to adultery, Matthew (5:32).

  • Jesus pointed out the law that forbade false oaths, Leviticus (19:12), by urging them to avoid oaths altogether, Matthew (5:33-36). In the Old Testament, God commanded the people to take their oaths in His name not in the name of other gods, Deuteronomy (6:13), and that they should not swear falsely in God's name, Leviticus (19:12). At the time of Jesus, the practice of taking oaths became more and more common to the point that if a person did not keep his promises, the people would invoke God as their witness who was expected to punish the oath-taker.

    Slowly, out of reverence for God, people started to try and find other ways to honour their words so that God would not be dishonoured if they did not fulfil their promise. They did not realize that their simple "Yes" and "No" were just as binding as if they were uttered in the form of an oath. Jesus identified the problem as an issue of honesty and integrity. So He said to His disciples, "Let your "Yes" mean "Yes", and, your "No" means "No"". In other words, Jesus told them that if they kept breaking their promises but at the same time did not want to profane God's name, the solution is not to swear by something else, but rather change their attitude so that they truly become truthful in their daily life.

Thus, Jesus wanted His disciples to go beyond the understanding at the time to fulfil the purposes of these laws. By following these laws perfectly in thought and deed, both in the letter and in the intent of the heart, Jesus wanted them to live a life of righteousness or holiness higher than the Scribes and Pharisees. He also reminded them that "Whoever breaks one of the least of the commandments and teaches others to do so will be cast out as worthless persons. But whoever obeys and teaches will be regarded great".

What do we learn from this gospel?

Even today, some of Jesus' teachings still seem very radical to many people. All of us continually struggle to obey the commands of our Lord. But the Book of Sirach in today's first reading reminds us that if we "Choose to keep the commandments, they will save us; if we trust in God, we too will live", Sirach (15:15). In the same way, the author of the Book of Genesis says, "If you are doing right, surely you ought to hold your head high; but if you are not doing right, sin is crouching at the door, waiting to pounce on you. However, even then, you can still overcome the temptation, if you will it", Genesis (4:7).

  • We may not have killed anyone with our own hands, but we are just as guilty as a murderer if we nurse anger, hatred and desire to take revenge against others which sometimes lead to violence, including vulgarity, abusive and violent language and aggressive behavior. Therefore, as Jesus says, let us strike at the root of murder and by getting rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, slander and all types of evil thoughts. Moreover, let us humbly and courageously reach out and reconcile with others.
  • We may not be committing adultery but we might be regularly entertaining lustful thoughts, feelings and fantasies. Following the instruction Jesus gave to his disciples, let us rid ourselves of impure thoughts and lustful desires. Let us try to separate ourselves from people, materials, and circumstances that corrupt our minds and incite lustful desires.
  • As Christians, we must encourage and support one another as we worship God, grow in our understanding of the exclusive relationship between one man and one woman and promote life-long commitments. If you are separated, or recently divorced, and are lacking peace and joy, I encourage you to seek reconciliation if possible and be emotionally healed.
  • Let us avoid making oaths. Instead, as Jesus suggests, let us be true to our word, allow our "Yes" to be "Yes", and our "No" to be "No" and, speak and live in integrity before God in Christ.
(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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