Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reflection: The freedom to live in love


“It’s up to you.”

When you hear that, do you believe it’s true?

Advertisers hawk phrases like this to imply that the “right choice” is available for a price you can’t afford to pass up. When my mother would say “It’s up to you,” the consequences for making the wrong choice were predictably unpleasant.

How much freedom do we really have? That’s the question of today’s readings.

Almost 200 years before Christ, Yeshua, the author of Book of Sirach, responded to this question in a collection of the best wisdom and religious advice he could gather. In today’s first reading, Yeshua asserts that human beings are free to choose life or loss. He wanted to liberate people from the idea that their lives were predetermined or controlled by fate.

Belief in fate or freedom generates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unless your name is Sisyphus, most people who feel controlled by the fates will not struggle against them.

Meanwhile, people who believe they have free will usually opt to choose how to deal with all that happens, no matter their degree of control over their circumstances.

While today’s psalm promotes the idea that adherence to God’s law is the way of wisdom, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians offers an interesting twist on this idea. Paul calls the Corinthians’ attention to a different sort of wisdom. According to Paul, mature Christians have learned the mysterious wisdom of the cross: an apparent failure that ushers in blessing beyond measure.

Paul is operating in the paradoxical realm of Gospel living. For him, real wisdom leads people to admit and accept the fact that they understand only the slightest sliver of the truth. In Paul’s way of thinking, the people who are animated by the Spirit are wise enough to trust that neither their eyes nor ears, nor even heart can comprehend what has been begun in them and will be completed by God.

Under Paul’s guidance, we might read today’s Gospel not as a sermon, but as a revelation of Jesus’ own consciousness and wisdom.

The interpretive key to everything Jesus wanted to say is encapsulated in the phrase, “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” Jesus, the prophetic Jewish preacher, understood that his vocation was to demonstrate the deep meaning of everything that had gone before him, particularly of God’s loving interaction with humanity.

In an oppressed society hoping for military victories, Jesus preached radical nonviolence.

In a religious tradition that cherished sacrifice as humans’ best offering to God, Jesus taught that interpersonal reconciliation was worth more than any material offering.

In a patriarchal and slave-holding society, Jesus preached that looking on another as an object for self-gratification rather than as an equal subject before God was tantamount to adultery. (Remember, adultery was the most common description of Israel’s religious unfaithfulness and it was more a question of the unfaithfulness of idolatry than anything sexual.)

In a society that valued physical integrity and saw disability as a sign of God’s disfavor, Jesus claimed that being maimed or blind was preferable to denigrating another in thought or action. (Some early Christian fundamentalists took his hyperbole to heart and maimed themselves — completely missing Jesus’ sense of humor and hyperbole.)

Any one of Jesus’ phrases summarizes his whole teaching, yet the simplest and clearest is “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ ” Who could ask for a more straightforward call to the never-ending task of living with integrity? When we describe Jesus with words like holy, wondrous, loving and faithful, each of those describes a dimension of his integrity as son of God and son of man, as the person who fulfilled the human vocation to be an image of God.

As he preached the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revealed his own discernment about the purpose of life and the place of law. Jesus had realized that anger, resentment, the use of others for personal pleasure or gain, and the easy severing of relationships were nothing more than diverse expressions of profound disrespect for the other.

Jesus preached, not to burden others, but to invite them into profound freedom. Today, he would surely remind us that relishing anger or grudges — even at injustice — confines us in self-made mental/emotional prisons and implicitly reveals that we consider our opinion of others as infallible. Jesus’ warning against lust applies also to racism, sexism, and all the bigotries that assume that our way is the norm while others are deviants.

Today’s Scriptures invite us to lay claim to the freedom to live in love. We cannot control others, but we can choose how to respond to them. In baptism and every celebration of the Eucharist we say yes to Christ’s way. Let our yes be yes!

Reading 1

(Sirach 15: 15-20)

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.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
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.

Responsorial psalm

(Psalm 19: 1-2,4-5, 17-18, 33-34)

Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe his decrees,
who seek him with all their heart.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

You have commanded that your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping your statutes!
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

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.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

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.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Reading 2

(1 Corinthians 2: 6-10)

Brothers and sisters:
We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,
and which none of the rulers of this age knew;
for, if they had known it,
they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:
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.
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.


(Matthew 5: 17-37)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
“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.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
“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.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
“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.
“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”