Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our readings today draw us into deep matters of the heart. First, Sirach teaches that although we experience many things beyond our control, we face essential choices in life. These choices have profound consequences, for good or for evil. God does not coerce our choices, but graciously accompanies us within them. God is always seeking to transform our heart, to orient our heart toward God and toward love for others. Saint Paul reminds us that God has been up to this heart-transforming work all along, from ages long ago, through Christ Jesus, and continuing now in the work of the Spirit. In the Gospel reading, Jesus raises the bar on our behavior, to get us to pay attention to our inner attitudes and values. By disturbing us in this way, Jesus helps us begin to see our hidden complacencies and compromises. Jesus shows us that deep within, God is always working on us, always inviting us into transformation.
HIDING FROM OURSELVES
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus seems pretty rough on religious people. In the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5 through 7), Jesus frequently speaks to people who know the Law of Moses, and to those who hold positions of authority in the Jewish community. Jesus was shaking them up! In today’s Gospel, when he interprets specific portions of the Law, he relates the Law to the deeper regions of the human heart. He challenges his listeners, and us, to see what we hide from ourselves.
If we are not diligent, we can use a system of ethics or religious law to assure ourselves and others that we are morally upright. When this happens, we can think there is no need for us to reflect or to change, and we have no need for forgiveness. Jesus reminds us that we can sometimes use religion to distract us from the difficult, ongoing work of self-reflection and repentance.
LIFE IN THE REIGN OF GOD
When Jesus challenges his listeners in today’s Gospel, he does not seek to humiliate them or to trap them in guilt or shame. His challenges are part of his larger message of the graciousness of God. Jesus is describing life in the reign of God, which is at the heart of his teaching and ministry. He is describing those who flourish there: people who seek reconciliation, who honor both women and men, who speak truthfully.
Jesus invites his listeners to live in the reign of God, on earth as in heaven. These are the meek, the poor, the merciful and pure-hearted, as described earlier in the Beatitudes. They are aware of their flaws, but they also know that God is with them, cherishing and guiding them. They are forgiving of others because they have been forgiven. They continually strive to listen to God in prayer. They are able to live with an open heart, and to live in trust in God. As Jesus’ listeners today, we are called to live the same way.
Today’s Readings: Sir 15:15–20; Ps 119:1–2, 4–5, 17–18, 33–34; 1 Cor 2:6–10; Mt 5:17–37 [20–22a, 27–28, 33–34a, 37]