February 12, 2017 — Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Although we call the Book of Sirach from the Old Testament exactly that, for a long time in the Church it was called Ecclesiasticus, and then the Wisdom of Sirach. It is a collection of wisdom from a prophet named ben Sirach who lived two centuries before Christ. On this particular Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time the holy scripture from Sirach refers to the many choices we have. It first of all makes it very clear that we do indeed have to make choices between good and evil.
However, it then qualifies those choices by advising us that we must trust to and follow the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of humankind. They are not the same. The implication is also included that there are consequences when we make the wrong choice, many of which may be based upon our own interpretation of what is right and what is wrong, or our embracement of the wisdom of some other human. The point is that we need to heed God’s wisdom as reflected by centuries of Church contemplation and statements, and following our own opinions and those of others may be unadvisable.
St. Paul, in the Second Reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, confirms and supports the statements of Sirach. Paul, too, advises us that the wisdom of God should be our source for opinions and decisions (“… not a wisdom of this age…we speak of God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory.”) Paul caps this recommendation by making it clear to us that sometimes God’s wisdom is beyond our ability to understand, as “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.”
It is the Church that reveals to us the Holy Spirit quite often. That wisdom may seem “mysterious and hidden” to us, but that is part of our challenge as followers and disciples of our Lord. Too often in our society people think and believe that their personal wisdom is beyond the Lord’s. That is not and cannot be the case. When Paul tells us that it is only “through the Spirit” that we can gain any appreciation for God and His wisdom, Paul is reminding us that this kind of knowledge is unattainable through human wisdom or human investigation.
For the past few weeks we have been hearing the Word from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. Today’s Gospel is a continuation of that. We began with the Sermon on the Mount; then Jesus shared with us the importance of being “salt” and “light.” Now the Lord addresses the Law, including the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ point ties in with the first two readings in that having freedom of choice does not mean we can violate a Commandment. In referring to the Law Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” That is basic theology. Jesus makes it clear that His authority is higher than the Law of Moses, but He is not here to contradict it.
Jesus begins a series of comments and clarifications on the Commandments. It would seem His intention is not to reinterpret the Commandments, but to question the way some of us may try to alter them or interpret them based upon human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. Perhaps the key to all of this has to do with external performances as compared to internal feelings. That is a common theme with the Lord — the fact that people like the scribes more or less felt that everything had to with what people showed externally, when the real importance had to do with matters of the heart. Jesus does not want us to just act like disciples; He does not want us to practice stewardship, for example, just to look good. He wants us to embrace, believe, and internalize that.
He wants us to be His disciples. He calls us to be His disciples. However, He wants us to be real disciples to the depth of our being, not just on the surface. That is not simple or comfortable. Stewardship is not simple or effortless, but it is the way the Lord has called us to live.