6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON FEBRUARY 16, 2020 (R.1: Sirach 15: 15- 20; Psalm 119: 1- 2, 4- 5, 17- 18, 33- 34; R.2: 1 Corinthians 2: 6- 10; Gospel: Matthew 5: 17- 37)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
BACK TO THE ROOT
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ taken from today’s Gospel passage.
It was Valentine’s Day; Samantha was out all night partying. The next morning, she went to her mom and said to her, “Mom, why are men so unfaithful? Why can they not just stick to one lady? You won’t believe what happened last night; I caught my boyfriend Joe dancing with another lady at the party and…” Her mom interrupted, “Why did you let the lady? Were you not with Joe?” She responded, “No, Mom, I didn’t go with Joe; I didn’t even expect him to be at that party.” Her mom quizzed on, “Why did you go by yourself?” She looked away and replied, “I did not go alone; I went with my other boyfriend.”
And Jesus said, “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” What is it about the Scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus is warning us against? In Judaism, the Scribes were the teachers and the interpreters of the law. The name “Pharisee” means “separated” or “the separate ones.” The Pharisees were a lay group; they were members of a sect in Judaism. For them, religion was all about the law. They appeared to be very strict in their observance of the law. They were often hostile to Jesus. Jesus condemned their self-righteousness and hypocrisy. The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek hupokrites, which means “actor,” one who pretends to be what one is not. They pointed accusing fingers at others, but they were not free of the same sins. They covered their sins and exposed the sins of other people.
Jesus has not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to take us back to the root of the matter. He looks at how the Pharisees and the Scribes are so engrossed in the externalities of the law, and he says to his followers, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” He goes on to pick the law one after the other. “You have heard that it was said… 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…” Assuming I ask whether any of us at this Mass has ever killed a human being, I guess, most of us, if not all of us will claim innocence. But there are instances where people may be walking around physically but have in reality, been murdered. There might be instances where some people have lost the joy of being alive because of our attitude towards them. Have you ever stopped talking to a family member or friend because you are mad at them? Have you gone to the extent of avoiding them at Mass even when they make efforts to give you a handshake? Have you ever disliked someone and gone ahead to recruit other people to join you in hating that person? Have you ever bullied anyone? If your answer is “yes” to one or more of these questions, it means you have killed. Murder is an act of aggression that begins from the inside. Inside the murderer, there are anger, hatred, contempt, resentment, which progress to abusive speech and the final act of murder. The old approach to the commandment focused on the eventual act, which is the culmination of the process, but Jesus takes us to the origin and growth of the thought.
He goes on to say, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman [or a man] with lust has already committed adultery with her [or him] in his [or her] heart.” Now, I ask, if you have never committed adultery in your life, raise your hand (please, raise your hand only in your mind because I don’t intend to end the Mass now. This is an examination of conscience for all of us). Before you start celebrating your holiness, let us ask further questions on this. As a man or a woman, have you ever looked at a woman or a man who is not your spouse? You did not just look, you looked, and you looked again, and you persisted in looking? You consoled yourself that you were admiring God’s creature, but in your mind, you knew you went beyond admiration?”
The most prominent story of adultery in the Bible is in 2 Samuel 11. It begins with King David walking about on the roof; he sees a very beautiful woman bathing. He feels attracted by her beauty, and knowing his power as a King, he signs an executive order summoning the woman to his house, and he took her to bed. It is not a love story; it is a story of lust. It all began with a look, and it continued to adultery and eventual murder to cover up the evil. Jesus is not just interested in the symptom; he goes to the root of the sin. How many of us still feel sinless? Before laughing at the single mom, the one with a child outside wedlock, let us be sure our secret records are clean.
I had the privilege of speaking to the parents of students from one of our Catholic schools recently. In the course of the talk, I asked them to give examples of some of the bad things Catholic priests do without mentioning names. They were very eloquent in providing the needed information. I then went on to ask, “Assuming the priest is your pastor, and he is removed, can you confidently present any of your sons who is free from the bad things the priest is guilty of and can take over the position?” You could hear a pin drop after I asked the second question. My goal was not to exonerate any priest; my goal was to point out the root of our problems. If all parents do their job well, we will not have to worry about having a bad priest, a corrupt president, an unfaithful spouse, etc. in the future. We focus so much on the symptoms and ignore the root of the problem.
Shortly before my priestly ordination, my classmate who dropped from seminary along the way, asked me, “Emmanuel, do you realize what you are going into? How are you going to survive without a wife for the rest of your life?” I smiled and said nothing. A few years later, he sent me his wedding invitation. I called him on the phone and asked him, “And you, do you realize what you are going into? How are you going to survive with the same wife for the rest of your life?” Living a holy life is not easier or more difficult because you are a priest or a lay Catholic. We are all in this together. The old commandment emphasized our efforts, but the new one opens us up to divine grace. That is why Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” We must learn to support one another on our journey to heaven; we must stop bragging about doing it on our own, and let us trust the assuring words of Jesus when he says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”