Readings: Sirach 15:15-20; 1Cor. 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
The Burden of Our Choices
Today is the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next week, precisely on February 26th we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. It is fitting indeed that we make a choice today. “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.” (Sirach 15:15-17). In the Book of Deuteronomy God urged the children of Israel to keep his commandment and enjoy a long life in the promised land. He told them that his command was not difficult for them to observe but was something very near to them, “already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out” (Deut. 30:14). In verse 15, he says: “Today I am giving you a choice between good and evil, between life and death.” He gave them a choice between God’s blessing and God’s curse. To stress the seriousness of the choice, God invites, in verse 19, the heaven and earth to witness the choice that they were to make.
One of the most sacred gifts God has gifted us with is Free Will. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and feely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” (1730). With our free will, it is expected that we choose the path that would lead us back to God. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. We have often chosen to deviate from God, choosing ourselves rather than our Creator. We have used this gift of freedom, many times to our detriment; to destroy and kill rather than to love, respect and protect others. Yet God still respects us and will never take that gift away from us.
Today’s readings remind us of God’s intention in giving us free will. “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.” Again, he reminds us “If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God which I enjoin on you today, loving him and walking in his ways and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.” (Deut. 30:16). Our choices have repercussion and consequences; we are responsible to every choice we make. When we refuse to obey God’s Commandment, we do so to our detriment and we will pay the price for it. “If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish…” (Deut. 30:17-18).
This brings us to today’s Gospel. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. We must not only obey the law but personalize and internalize it. God gave us the law for a purpose, to guide our way of life on earth and ensure a peaceful cohabitation with others. The law of Mosses finds its completion in Jesus. Hence, he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17). It is therefore, in our best interest to obey the law of God. No wonder the Psalmist prays in today’s Psalm, “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.” (Ps. 119:33-34).
The law of God, fulfilled in Christ, makes us morally strong, upright and honest. It makes it possible for us to live a life of integrity, to give and keep our words and to speak the truth at all times. No wonder Mark Twain said: “Speaking honestly is better. It takes a lot of stress out of our lives. If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything, but if you don’t tell the truth you have to remember what you said.” Proverbs 10:9 stresses this point thus, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” Herein then lies the punishment of those who do not obey the law of love.
The choices that we make place obligation on us. If we make good and positive choices we reap a bountiful benefit but if we make bad choices we will certainly end up with bad consequences. We have to choose to forgive those who hurt us or be stuck with the toxic feeling of hatred each time we see the object of our apprehension. Christ wants to spare us this and so he instructs us to tread the path of reconciliation. He gives us simple rules or a manifesto of his kingdom – the beatitudes. He warns, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Let us pray, once again, with the Psalmist: “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.” Amen.
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP