February 13, 2011 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37 or 5:20-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37
Choices, choices, choices! They are all around us. It doesn’t matter whether you look at the selection of breads in the grocery store, or consider what model of car you need, or have to decide on an over-the-counter pain killer — there is a bewildering array of products for us to choose. While most of us would not want to live in a “one-size-fits-all” world, it sometimes seems that the variety of products available is almost overwhelming.
Not all choices are terribly important. If we find that we don’t particularly like the texture of a loaf of bread, we can choose another variety when we pick up a new loaf in a few days. For most people, a period of years goes between one purchase of an automobile and another. However, people usually own a number of cars in their lifetime, so that choice does not have permanent significance.
But some choices do have lasting consequences, and those are addressed in today’s Scripture readings. As we read in Sirach 15, “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”
It’s an exhilarating prospect, but a scary one. We have the freedom to make choices for our life, and God will honor those choices. However, those choices have consequences, and we have to live with the consequences of our decisions.
On the one hand, we can choose life and good; on the other, we can choose death and evil. How do we know which is which? The guidance we need comes from the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5, we read, “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, if we follow God’s law, we will be choosing the way of life and good.
The challenge, all too often, is discerning which is the good choice and which the evil. Under the pressures of everyday life, which alternative is good and which evil often does not seem as clear-cut as we’d like. That’s where the need for wisdom comes in. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2), Christians seek “God’s wisdom.” Opposed to it is the “wisdom of this age.”
What’s the difference between the two? The wisdom of this age is devoted to seeking pleasure, power, and riches. The self is at the center of a person’s endeavors. God’s wisdom, on the other hand is a wisdom that seeks to serve, wants the best for others as well as for one’s self, and desires to glorify God. It is based on the Jesus’ paradox that is the center of Christian living, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). One way leads to pleasure in this life, the other way to eternal joy.
The impact on stewardship is immense. When we have chosen the way of life and the good, we use our talent and our treasure for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and we spend time in communion with the Lord of that Kingdom. When we have chosen the way of death and evil, we dedicate our time to communing with ourselves to magnify our power, riches, and pleasure as much as possible. May God grant us the grace to make the right choice!