6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Sir 15:15-20, Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34, 1 Cor 2:6-10, Gospel: Matt 5:17-37
Map and Compass
As many of you know I really enjoy backpacking and exploring the wilderness. I love wander around in God’s creation, to climb high mountains and see beautiful vistas. In all my years of climbing and exploring I have learned that one of the hardest thing to teach others is how to use a map and a compass to know where you are and to know how to get to your destination.
A Map tells you where you are, and where you can go.
A Compass tells you what direction you are going in.
Learning to navigate with a map and compass is hard because it requires constant awareness. You need a map – that tells you where you are and helps you to figure out where you are going. You also need a compass – which I might need to explain in this era of GPS-enabled smart-phones. A Compass has a needle that always points North. With a reliable pointer to the north you can walk in any direction and be certain that you will get to your destination. The map is used to determine where you are and where you are going, and the compass shows you the direction to take to get from here to there.
Map = Law of God, Compass = Conscience
The Map is like the Law of God – When we know what God’s plan is it is easier for us to know where we are and where we are going. The Compass is like our conscience. It helps us to choose the right direction whenever we are confronted by moral choices.
The Law and Our Conscience
The readings today speak to us about the law and our conscience. The law is the way that God created us to live together, to find happiness. The law is like a map. A map tells me the truth about the ground around me. The law tells me about the truth of the human heart, and by meditating on the law I can come to discern the way to happiness.
What use is a map if you do not use it?
If we have a map but we do not study it then it is simply a piece of paper. For a map to be useful we need to study it. We need to read the key to learn what those squiggly lines mean?
The Map is like the Law – it tells us where we can go.
If we use a map casually, then I can get into a general area, but I am still not finding where I need to be. But if I have a map, and read it, and think about it, and study it, and plan my route by it – then I will find the best way. In this way the map is like the law of God – it shows us where we are and where we can go (Both positively and negatively).
The Map reflects the truth of the land, the Law reflects the truth of our human experience.
In the Gospel today Christ tells us that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. He fulfills the law to the fullest when he dies on the cross. The Law, says Christ is not going anywhere. No matter what you do, there are mountains and valleys, hills and streams. What you can do is try to live according to the law.
When we live our lives (either in accordance with or against) the Law, we teach others to do likewise.
Jesus also warns us not to teach others to misread the law, do not misuse the map that God has given you – it is to your detriment. We teach primarily by our example of actions.
What do our actions teach others about our faith in God?
The other piece of equipment that is vital for wilderness navigation is a compass. A compass always points to the north, and so it can be used to determine which direction you are going. A compass will tell you where you are going, but it won’t tell you where you are, or what is coming next.
Conscience is the spiritual equivalent to a compass.
The spiritual equivalent of the compass is our conscience. Our conscience is our ability to know right from wrong, to judge our actions and to see our journey through life from God’s perspective. The Catechism teaches that the conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that will or has been performed... In all we say and do we are obliged to follow faithfully what we knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of our conscience that we see divine law.
What conscience is not
Conscience is not what I think, it is not my opinion, it is not a justification or a rationalization. Conscience is the inner voice that God gives us to recognize His word and to respond to it.
Our conscience advises us on what we should do, and it judges us when we fail to do what is right. Because conscience is a way that we listen to the voice of God, it is not subjective, because God is not subjective. By that I mean God is the same for you and for me, He is not different. We know this because God is from the Truth, and the Truth is unchanging, eternal and faithful.
Our Conscience can be mis-formed
We form our conscience in a good way when we choose good and reject evil. We form our conscience in a bad way when we choose evil and reject good. Whenever we are act in a way that is contrary to God’s law then we need to understand that some justification or rationalization is at work in our hearts and is causing us to deform our conscience. Whenever this happens we need to be alert and change our choices.
How do we listen to our conscience?
Silence and Stillness are the important ingredients to listening to our conscience.
- Do we provide ourselves the opportunity to consider our actions each day?
- Do we take the time to pray and reflect before making big decisions?
- Do we spend time in silence and stillness seeking to listen to the direction of our conscience in our lives?
If we don’t then the readings today are an invitation to conversion, and invitation to change. This week, can we for 5 minutes a day take some time to reflect before making decisions, and to reflect at the end of the day.
Freedom – The other directions that we can go.
The first reading teaches us that God has given us the gift of freedom, the ability to choose good or evil. Just as we use a compass to know which way to go, we use our conscience to choose right from wrong. Freedom means that we need to choose in every situation that allows us to choose good or evil.
We respond to God’s gift of freedom positively when we choose good over evil. We reject God’s gift of freedom when we choose evil over good. The reason that God has given us freedom is because we need freedom in order to choose to love or not. If there was no freedom, then we couldn’t choose to love or to hate. The reality of God’s law is that when we choose evil, we become enslaved to evil, addicted to evil and hence we lose our freedom. When we choose good, then we grow in freedom because we are further away from those things that would enslave us (sin). God does not abandon us in our freedom. He provides us with the Map (the Word) and a Compass (our conscience) to guide us in our choices.
This is what Sirach means when he says
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.
Reflecting more deeply on the Gospel
In the Gospel Christ reflects on the roots of the Law, the deeper meaning of the law. Often times whenever someone enters into a discussion of the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law they do so to justify some way of breaking the law. Their goal is not to uphold the law but to justify breaking the law. Jesus does not do this, rather in the Gospel today he goes in the opposite direction. He goes through four different laws that Moses gave and then shows the Spirit that is behind the law. In a way Jesus is saying, if you want to get a “C” in morality then at least do this – but if you really want to understand this law then think about this. Lets pick up our moral compass, and reflect on the map’s of our lives.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 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; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
For those who are wondering, the word Raqa is a Hebrew word that means “Blockhead” or “Imbecile”.
Here Jesus is reflecting more on the spirit of the commandment – “Thou shalt not kill”, and points that at the root of this commandment is Anger. When we fall into Anger it leads us (unchecked) to have a murderous heart, a heart that desires the annihilation of the other. It is easier to be angry with a person than to be forgiving. This is especially difficult when the brother that we are angry with has wronged us over some period of time and the relationship becomes set in stone.
Lay your gift aside and be reconciled
One of the reasons why Christ places reconciliation as a condition before making an offering to God is because the relationships that we have are gifts from God. How can we give God a gift if we are not accepting the gifts that he has given us?
Two things to do if we are stuck.
- Pray for the one we are angry with (each day).
- Pray for ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit (each day) – so that when the time for reconciliation occurs we can recognize it and act on it!
“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus is looking at the root of the corruption of marriage, and trying to draw us back to God’s plan. Our sexuality was created to unite us in a relationship that is good and self-giving. Yet, Lust corrupts that gift by corrupting ourselves. When we lust we are transformed into selfish people.
What is the antidote? If your eye causes you to sin then tear it out!
The remedy that Christ presents in the Gospel is rather extreme – If you eyes cause you to sin then tear them out! The point that Christ is making is that the sin of Lust can be deeply rooted in our hearts because it is the corruption of one of God’s greatest gifts.
Avert your eyes!
St. Francis struggled with the sin of lust, and so he chose to avert his eyes rather than tearing them out. Whenever he met a woman he would stare at his feet as a way of avoiding entering into lust in his heart. The other action that we can take is an action of interior prayer. We can ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to recognize when we are tempted to Lust, and then we can use our conscience to choose a better course.
“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife - unless the marriage is unlawful - causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
This gospel is challenging to us as a community in three different ways. To those who are married – it challenges us to strengthen our marriages. To those who are divorced – we are challenged to reflect on the situation of our divorce – was our marriage unlawful? And to those of us who are divorced and remarried outside the Church, or those who are cohabitating – how do we escape from the trap of adultery?
I know that many of us here are divorced and subsequently married. There are also people here today who are divorced and not remarried. For us, this part of the Gospel is challenging. We also live in a society that encourages divorce – if this spouse is not working out, go and get another! The problem with our culture is that it seeks to undermine the freedom that exists within marriage. God designed marriage to be a life-long commitment to create the space in our relationship for us to grow in holiness. When either party can leave at any time then that freedom is damaged or destroyed.
The reality of marriage is that it is hard work being faithful and life-giving to one another throughout our marriage. For those of us who are married,
- Do we take time to share our lives with our spouses?
- Do we pray with them?
- Do we listen to them?
- Do we find time to care for them in their needs?
Married Folk – Pray with one Another!
For those of us who are married, then the spiritual lesson from this part of the Gospel today is to take 5 minutes each day to pray for your spouse. I would suggest that each night, before one of you goes to bed that you take the time to sit together, turn off the TV and the computer and to share briefly what happened that day, and the needs that you have for tomorrow. Then let your spouse pray for you and reciprocate.
Cohabitating Folk – Let this Gospel Challenge you!
For those here today who are divorced and remarried outside of the Church, or who are co-habitating, then I encourage you to let this Gospel challenge you. In what way is your life and your relationship in disorder? Use your conscience and compare it to the teachings of your faith. How can you allow Christ to lead you to a deeper relationship with him in your actions. This road may seem hard, and may lead over some very difficult terrain, but I promise you it leads to a more beautiful life because your life will be more open to grace and you will have learned to truly trust in God.
Divorced Folk – Reflect on your relationship.
This is hard and painful, we need to take time as we are able to reflect on our relationship and see what has been going on. We need to have courage to faith the truth in the presence of Gods love.
Have you ever talked to a traveling sales-man or a used-car dealer or politician? (I mean no disrespect to any traveling salesmen or used car dealers here – I am using the stereotype.) Whenever someone has to make an oath they are in essence saying – I can’t be trusted, but God can. Christ’s point here is that if we choose to live as men and woman of truth and of the Gospel, then our word is our bond, and we need no other assurance. If we learn to live by our conscience and by the law of God then we are men and women who are trustworthy, who live with integrity. Then our yes does mean yes, and our no means no.
Knowing the Law and Listening to our Conscience is hard – but it leads to a beautiful place.
Navigating by Map and compass is hard. You need to be constantly referring to the compass to make sure that your direction has not drifted off of course, and the map to check against the ground you are walking across to make sure that you continue to know where you are. If you stop paying attention to either of them, you can end up lost, and then you have to stop and figure out where you are before proceeding on again.
Walking with Christ can be hard at times, but it is at the same time very simple. Let us live our lives this week by the light of God’s law and trust to his grace to guide our conscience along the right path.