6 Sunday A: I have come to Fulfill the Law; to Expand the Meaning of the Law




Gospel reading: Matthew 5:17-37


Michel de Verteuil
General comments
MountThis Sunday we have the third of the extracts from the Sermon on the Mount. I would advise that you stay with the full passage for this Sunday, even though a “shorter form” is allowed; we never know which section of a passage will touch us or the people with whom we are sharing.
The passage lends itself to moralising reading: “Jesus is telling us to…”. We must therefore make a special effort to start from our experience, as always in lectio divina. We ask ourselves the question: when did I experience Jesus telling me these things? The reading then becomes a celebration of moments of grace, teaching through experience. As  always, you can remain with one section of the passage, or try to discover – with the heart, not the head – a thread running through the entire passage.
Like the whole Sermon on the Mount, this passage describes a conversion experience, “going deeper than the virtue of the scribes and Pharisees”. We need therefore to retrace our spiritual journey, from a “scribe and Pharisee” attitude to one that is “deep” – from a “single-issue” approach to one that is radical and holistic.
The rest of the passage celebrates the kinds of implications we become aware of when we experience radical conversion. Our spiritual journey will affect our commitment to Jesus and the church, but also our other commitments – to our families, neighbourhoods, social or political movements we may be involved in.
A recent statement by the late St Pope John Paul II is an example of the church’s conversion in its pro-life stance: “To choose life involves rejecting every form of violence, the violence of poverty and hunger, the violence of armed conflict, the violence of criminal trafficking in drugs and arms, the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.”
By giving a broad interpretation to the text, we experience it as wisdom teaching, as Jesus intended it to be.
As always in Jesus’ teaching, the language is metaphorical, inviting us to enter it from experiences which we remember with emotion.
The sequence of thought may seem haphazard to our Western way of reasoning, but it has its own inner logic.

Textual comments
The passage can be divided as follows:
– Verse 20 is the centre piece of the passage; it explains the verses which precede and follow it.
– Verses 17 to 19 are an emotional celebration of “the Law” (here, the term can be taken to mean any noble cause we feel committed to) and of those who uphold it.
– Verses 21 to 26: a first series of implications, concerning those with whom we have quarrels.
– Verses 27 to 32: a second series of implications, concerning marriage relationships.
– Verses 33 to 37: a third series of implications, concerning the taking of oaths.

Scriptural Prayer
Lord, we thank you for those wonderful moment
when something we believed in half-heartedly
and from the surface of ourselves
suddenly touches us deeply.
We move from head to heart conviction, feel passionately committed,
see the implications for every aspect of life.
Sometimes it is a teaching of Jesus:
– we must forgive seventy times seven times
– our neighbours and ourselves are linked in a common destiny
– the gentle will inherit the earth
– only those who mourn will be comforted.
At other times it is traditional wisdom:
– the importance of family and friendship
– love is more powerful than selfishness
– we can trust the future.
At other times we recognise the full implications
of a cause we had given ourselves to:
– democracy, feminism, ecology, human rights, non-violence.
It is a conversion experience, sudden, unexpected.
We are touched, as Jesus was when, in a burst of emotion,
he celebrated the greatness of the Law of Moses,
exclaiming that not one dot, not one little stroke,
would disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.
Like him, we feel tremendous gratitude for the great people
who kept the vision alive and taught it;
we feel sad that anyone could think of infringing
one of the least of these commandments and teach others to do so.
How sad it is, Lord, to see a noble, idealistic enterprise
fall into the hands of scribes and Pharisees
who follow the letter of the law but go no deeper,
so that the enterprise loses its savour,
is no longer a city built on a hilltop, ushering in your kingdom.
The sign of this happening is that people start being content with the minimum,
playing it safe, avoiding evil rather than doing good,
concerned mainly with being respectable and making a good impression.
In Jesus’ day is was not killing, not committing adultery, not breaking oaths;
but Moses’ law, like all authentic renewal movements, intended to do away with
– anger and contempt in any form whatsoever,
calling one another fool or renegade,
– looking at other lustfully, seeing them as objects of conquest
who will satisfy our ambition, or compensate for our insecurities,
– acting because we feel bound by an external force,
in heaven, on earth, in some holy city, even in ourselves,
rather than from our inner conviction, our own yes or no.
We remember when our virtue too went no deeper
than that of the scribes and Pharisees.
We thank you that we experienced a conversion,
and our priorities are now quite different from what they were.
We realise how much we used to be concerned with external rituals.
helping othersNow, if brothers or sisters have something against us,
we leave our offering on the altar,
go and be reconciled with our brothers and sisters first,
and then come back and present our offering.
We feel a new urgency about living according to our beliefs,
it becomes a matter of life or death.
We are like litigants who come to terms with their opponents in good time
when they are still on the way to the court,
for fear that they will be handed over to the judge and be thrown into prison until they have paid the last penny.
We thank you that we feel fulfilled and have no problems giving up
things we had thought we could not do without:
– being popular or surrounded by a group of friends,
– making a lot of money,
– having our name in the newspapers.
We had thought it would be painful to give up these goals,
almost like tearing out our right eye or cutting off our right hand.
We thank you for the grace of seeing
that they were causing us to betray  our integrity,
that we are better off without them than having them and living empty lives,
like people having their bodies intact and being thrown into hell.
Lord, we thank you for that person you sent into our lives,
that Jesus who brought us to conversion.
We pray that we in our turn may bring his message of conversion
to those we live and work with – our church communities,
the great renewal movements of our time,
our families, neighbourhoods and schools.
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
The word ‘religion’ conjures up for most people, and indeed us Christians also, two great images. The first is that system of moral ‘do’s and don’ts’ — whether one thinks such rules are a good thing or not.
The second is that there are various religious practises that have to be followed: like the rule that we have to go on Sundays. But the message of Jesus, brought out in the gospel, is that we must go beyond these appearances: our actions must be following but must be inspired love; our religious observances cannot be merely formal must open us to mystery of love that is greater that the univ yet which enters every detail of the creation.
God's love
Homily notes
1. We tend to think of the contents of today’s gospel as a series of little pieces: a rule on this, a rule on that, a bit of theology on some other point. Apart from the fact that this ‘chop-up into sentences’ approach to the gospels is not good exegesis but a variant type of fundamentalism, this approach misses the whole point of the sermon by Jesus. The central point is that the message of the gospel is greater than the sum of its parts. It is not a new rule about this, a change in the rules about something else, and so forth; rather, the message is that God’s love is greater than all, and we are called to respond that love in a complete loving way, not simply by a formalistic fulfilment of regulations. Love always must go beyond ‘box ticking’ or it is not love.
2. This has an effect on how we preach: if we turn the gospel into a series of new regulations, and preach them as such, our preaching is reversing the very point of today’s gospel. This is also the fundamental reason why the shorter form of today’s gospel supplied in the lectionary is so inappropriate. So how can we reflect on the message that love and faith are more than ‘box ticking’?
3. The first point is to state just that: love and faith are more than ‘box ticking.’ We can keep all the rules, but if our lives have not got that spark of love and laughter, then we are not fol­lowing the God of love but the’ great policeman in the sky’.
golden rule4. That sparkle of love is what makes the difference between the saint and the intense rule-keeping boor. That sparkle is the ability to see beyond the rules, to glimpse a mystery that is greater than the universe, to glimpse the love of God beck­oning us.
5. But while attention to detail and discipline can train us in keeping the rules, we can only discover how to love through forgiving those who have hurt us irrespective of whether they ask for forgiveness or not, or are repentant or not. We can only discover how to love by helping those in need, whether they ‘deserve’ help or not. We can only discover how to love by standing with those who are oppressed ever if it is dangerous for us. We can only discover how to love by asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds with wisdom.
6. Love is the sparkle of the good news, the joy of being a disci­ple, but it is never the easy option.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
Golden rule 2People frequently refer to the Sermon on the Mount as being the New Law, replacing the Old Law, and the impression given is that, with Jesus, the rules have been somewhat loosened. Now it can be said that it is love that counts and that the rules take second place. But the error of this opinion is quickly evident when we check the eight Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon. Far from making life easier, the Sermon is even more demanding than the Old Law.
As God gradually revealed himself to the Chosen People, they began to understand that he loved them and wanted them to enjoy life in the land that he had given to them. In order for this to happen, they were to heed the warnings of the prophets and be faithful to God’s commandments.
Therefore, they must not kill. They must not steal. They must be faithful to their spouses and they must not envy their neighbour. Contrary to what some people suggest nowadays, the Chosen People understood that God wanted them to keep his laws because he loved them, and not because he wanted to make them wretched and unhappy.
We know this from God’s revelation of his loving nature in biblical texts such as the beautiful story of Hosea, whose love for his prostitute wife was analogous to the love that God had for his headstrong and sinful people. Through the prophets, God continually reminded them of his love, even as he pulled them back from the brink of destruction on many occasions. Indeed, in chapter 5 of the Book of Deuteronomy, we read that it was from God’s love that the Ten Commandments sprang. Before listing the commands, God reminded them: ‘I am YHWH your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’ (Deut 5:6).
During the Sermon on the Mount itself, Jesus told his listeners that he had not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved’ (Mt 5:17-18).
To understand the implication of this key statement of Jesus, we might reflect that he sought not the end of the Law, not its destruction, but its perfection. Hence in the Sermon, Jesus taught that it is no longer sufficient not to kill one’s neighbour. In future, his disciples would be required to control their anger so that their thoughts were purified and perfected. One by one, this extension of the Ten Commandments to thoughts and motives as well as actions, is found throughout this unique Sermon.
Jesus reinforced the idea of Christian perfection by linking it to the worship of God. If his followers desired to approach the altar and, while there, remembered friction with another person or people, they would be expected to leave their gifts at the altar and go to be reconciled first. The lesson for us is clear. This is how seriously God views our human relationships. We cannot hate our neighbour and purport to love God. That is not possible.
A much overlooked exhortation in the Sermon concerns prevarication in speech: ‘All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one’ (Mt 5:37).
The Sermon on the Mount, then, especially each of the Beatitudes, provides us with a rich mine of spiritual treasures that give us much food for meditation.
For meditation
For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:20)
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Donal Neary SJ:  The heart of religion
This list of some of Jesus’ sayings give an indication of what is important to him. He states the religious tradition of the people when he says that he has not come to abolish the old religion, and that religion must go much deeper and be an affair of the heart. He asks for forgiveness and reconciliation when he speaks about leaving a gift at the altar to go for reconciliation. He com­mends marriage, and faithfulness in marriage, in his views on divorce. He believes in the respect for sexuality that is shown in not using a person. This collection of Jesus’ sayings form a background to how he lived his life himself. He lived out these sayings in many of the events of his life, which we hear about on other Sundays. The Sermon on the Mount, of which this is part, is the backdrop to much of Jesus’ life and mission, a sort of vision statement for his life and ministry.
Much of this went against the religious practice of his people, which was centred mostly on externals. He saw the ritual and the law of religion as important only if it came from the heart.
This is the challenge always to religion – to live heartily what it enthusiastically believes. Practices in ritual and in religious custom and laws may change with different cultures and times; what is important is the way we live our lives, following Jesus and knowing that all our efforts to live like him are praised and rewarded. Pope Francis says, ‘It is not enough to just respect the commandments and do nothing more. Christian life is not just an ethical life: it is an encounter with Jesus Christ’ (9 May 2016).
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From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

A. Respect life in all its stages in words and deed: Jesus explains that the fifth commandment means respecting life in all its stages by honoring others in words and deeds.  This means that we have to control our anger because it is the rawest, strongest and most destructive of human emotions. Describing three stages of anger and the punishment each deserves, Jesus advises his disciples not to get angry in such a way that they sin.

1)  Anger in the heart (“brief stage of insanity” Cicero), has two forms: a) a sudden, blazing flame of anger which dies suddenly. b) a surge of anger which boils inside and lingers so that the heart seeks revenge and refuses to forgive or forget. Jesus prescribes trial and sentencing by the Village Court of Elders.

 2) Anger in speech: Using words which are insulting (“raka“=“fool”), or damaging to the reputation (“moros” meaning a person of loose morals). Jesus says that such an angry one should be sent to the Sanhedrin or Jewish religion’s Supreme Court for trial and sentencing.

 3) Anger in action: Sudden outbursts of uncontrollable anger often result in physical assault or abuse. Jesus says that such anger deserves hellfire as its punishment. In short, Jesus teaches that long-lasting anger is bad, contemptuous speech or destroying someone’s reputation is worse and harming another physically is the worst.

B. Jesus’ teaching on sexual sins:  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines a new moral code for his followers, which is different from the Mosaic moral code. He insists that adultery, the violation of the sixth commandment, is also committed through willfully generated evil and impure thoughts and desires which remain in the mind. Our hands become causes of sin according to what we touch and how we touch, in lust or greed or violence. Our eyes become agents of sins according to what they look at. When Jesus recommends mutilation of eyes and hands he is not speaking literally, because we have more sins than we have body-parts. Besides, even if all offending parts were removed, our minds -- the source of all sins – would still be intact, causing us to sin by thoughts and desires.  So Jesus teaches us that, just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body like an infected gall bladder, inflamed appendix, etc., in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us to commit grave sin or which leads to spiritual death. Hence, these warnings are actually about our attitudes, dispositions, and inclinations.  Jesus recommends that our hands become agents of compassion, healing and comfort   and that our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty around us.

C. Jesus’ clear teaching on divorce: According Matthew’s version, adultery is the only ground for sanctioning divorce. Based on the NT teachings given in Mk 10:1-12, Mt. 5:31-32; Mt. 19:3-9; Luke 16:18; and 1 Cor 7:10-11, the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament involving both a sacred and legal contract between a man and a woman and, at the same time, is a special covenant with the Lord.  “Divorce is also a grave offense against the natural law.  Besides, it claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death ….  Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society” (CCC # 2384, 2385).

D. Be men and women of integrity and characterAccording to the teachings of the Jewish rabbis, the world stands fast on truth, justice and peace; hence, liars, slanderers, scoffers and hypocrites will not enter Heaven. The rabbis classified two types of oaths as offensive to God: 1) frivolous oaths using God’s name to support a false statement because this violates the second commandment and 2) evasive oaths using words like HeavenJerusalem, or my head because God is everywhere, and He owns everything. Jesus interprets the Mosaic Law on oaths to mean that we should be righteous men and women of integrity and character.  If one is honest in his or her words and deeds, there is no need for one to support his or her statements and transactions with oaths or swearing. How forceful are honest words! (Job 6:25). An oath is a solemn invocation of God (So help me, God!) to bear witness to the truth of what one asserts to be the case or to the sincerity of one’s undertakings in regard to future actions. It is necessary and admissible to ask God’s help in the discharge of an important social duty (e.g., President’s oath of office), or while bearing witness in a court of law (“I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth … “So help me, God.”). Jesus teaches,   “Say yes when you mean yes and say nowhen you mean no” (Mt 5:37). That is, he invites us to live in truth in every instance and to conform our thinking, our words and our deeds to the truth.
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From The Connections:

THE WORD:
Today’s Gospel is the first indication of trouble between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews.  The role of the scribes evolved from that of recorders and codifiers of the Torah into that of interpreters of the specific rules and regulations of the Torah.  The Pharisees, the “separated brethren,” removed themselves from everyday activity in order to keep the Law assiduously, thereby serving as a model to the Jewish people who held them in great esteem.
  
While the scribes and Pharisees were extreme legalists in their interpretation of the Law, Jesus is the ultimate supra-legalist.  He takes their legalities a step further: The Spirit of God, which gives life and meaning to the Law, transcends the letter of the Law.  Jesus preaches that we cannot be satisfied with merely avoiding the act of murder but must also curb the insults and anger that lead to murder; we cannot be satisfied with justifying separation and estrangement but must actively seek reconciliation and forgiveness; we cannot be satisfied with just fulfilling contracts in order to avoid being sued but must seek to become honest and trustworthy persons in all our dealings.  Jesus comes to teach an approach to life that is motivated neither by edict nor fear but by the recognition and celebration of the humanity we share with all men and women.
  
For Jesus, the human heart is decisive.  It is the “new” Law's emphasis on the attitude of the heart that perfects and fulfills the principles and rituals of the "old."

HOMILY POINTS:
By our compassion and caring for others, by our ethical and moral convictions, by our sense of awareness and gratitude for all that God has done for us, we do the great work of passing on the Gospel of reconciliation and justice – and God is with us as we struggle to figure out and explain the complexities and struggles of life for the benefit of ourselves and our children and those who overwhelmed by it all who come to us for help.
     
Faith begins in the heart, Jesus says.  What we say, what we do, what we decide, are all responses to the God who speaks to us in the depths of our hearts, the God in whose image and likeness we have been created.   Christ speaks not of rules and regulations but the much deeper and profound values of the human heart. 
The truth is not contained in laws, oaths, statistics or rituals but in the Spirit of God that prompts us to make the decisions we make, the wisdom that leads us to the enactment of just laws and the celebrations of rituals that meaningfully remember and celebrate God's great love for us. 
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks us to consider the weight and meaning of what we say – and to realize the chasm that often exists between our words and our actions.   

“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 . . . ”
Matthew 5: 17-37
 
How come . . . ?
You might think of parenthood as a series of questions, often beginning with the words How come . . . ?
How come Bobby gets to play hockey and I can’t?  Mom and Dad’s challenge is to make their younger son understand that Bobby is older and has worked hard and assure the younger son that his day will come.  
How come I have to take out the trash?  Because you’re part of this family and we all have to work together to make our home a safe, clean place.
How come I have to practice?
How come we have so much homework?
How come I only get $5 a week allowance?
How come Susan gets to stay up later?
With patience, those How come’s are easy to answer.  But what about:
How come that kid keeps hitting me at school?
How come we have to move?
How come we’re having soup for dinner again?
While your own world is falling apart, you find a way to help your son or daughter negotiate the harsh realities of the world.
All these How come’s are prelude to the treacherous How come’s of adulthood:
How come he doesn’t love me anymore?
How come Dad isn’t getting better?
How come we have to die?

As parents and teachers, we are entrusted with our children’s how come’s and why’s and what if’s.  Their questions are not easy to answer — especially when we’re asking those same questions ourselves.  But Jesus reminds us that the answers are centered in the eternal verities of God: the love of God for all his sons and daughters, the hope of transforming the darkness and bitterness of our world into the kingdom of God, the peace that enables all men and women to live as brothers and sisters in God’s Christ.  By our compassion and caring for others, by our ethical and moral convictions, by our sense of awareness and gratitude for all that God has done for us, we do the great work of passing on the Gospel of reconciliation and justice — and God is with us as we struggle to figure out and explain the how come’s of life to inquiring little minds.  

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

From Fr, Jude Botelho:

The first reading from the Book of Sirach stresses the free will of human beings. It says that all human beings are free to choose either between good and evil. God meant us to stay in his family not by force but out of love, that is why he gave us freedom to reject the life he offers or accept it, to observe or violate the guidelines to happiness that he established for us all out of love. Today we have to make a choice of how we will live. Our happiness or unhappiness depends on our choices.

Beyond the letter of the Law
While explaining the ABCs of Christianity to an aged tribal chieftain, a missionary was stressing the don’ts more than the do’s. “You mean I must not take my friends’ wives?” clarifies the chieftain. “That’s right!” said the missionary. “And not rob their goats and cattle?” The missionary nodded. “And not kill warring chieftains?” queried the chieftain again. “Yes!” replied the missionary. “Then,” concluded the chieftain, “I’ll be a good Christian because I am too old to do any of those things.” We often reduce Christianity to a long list of don’ts forgetting that the essence of Christianity is the ‘spirit’ behind them.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

For the third consecutive Sunday the gospel is from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus sets out his programme for the kingdom. Today’s extract gives us some of the rules for the road. But there is a huge contrast between the understanding of laws as presented by the scribes and Pharisees and the deeper meaning of religious conversion as preached by Jesus. This passage specifically highlights the laws forbidding murder, adultery, divorce and swearing. Jesus does not stop at the letter of the law but reaches into the virtue that gives meaning to the law. Jesus speaks of what has been heard in the past and what has to be listened to now. Jesus is not changing the Law and the traditions passed on through the prophets. He is applying a proper spirit to what has become too legalistic. He explains the ‘dictates of the law’ were for the head to guide the five senses. The spirit of Jesus was to form the heart as well as the mind. Jesus then focuses on two of the basic energies within us which are the sources of sin if they remain unchecked: anger and lust. All of us have anger in us and it is normal to feel angry at times. Instead of just expressing our anger we need to look at the cause of our anger. We can’t avoid getting angry, but we can avoid acting out our anger. Jesus tells us to seek to be reconciled. Jesus does not espouse a minimalist approach to morality. Jesus enlarges the prohibition of murder to embrace anger, the prohibition of adultery to include lustful glances, and the prohibition of false oaths to include any kind of swearing. Jesus’ new law is not a soulless set of don’ts. He asks us to look deep within ourselves at our inner motive: Why am I doing what I am doing? And why am I not doing what I ought to be doing? Ultimately, there is only one precept that we need to embrace if we are to live in his kingdom: the command of loving our neighbour. Only love will help us to live for God.

Passion and Reason
The Greek philosopher, Plato, four hundred years before Christ, wrote of two horses in the human heart, Passion and Reason. Passion is the wild untamed horse with boundless strength and energy, but very hard to control and direct. Reason is the tamed horse, accustomed to the reins, disciplined in stride and responding to directions. A chariot hitched to a pair of Passions might go anywhere but would surely crash or overturn before long. However, a charioteer who selects a pair of Reasons will be too cautious and fearful to go anywhere worthwhile. But if Passion and Reason can be paired, then the powerful energy is harnessed and the journey of life can be enjoyed. – The teaching of Jesus strongly affirms the need of rules, but rules are to be understood as a means to the end, which is a life of spiritual strength and commitment.
Sylvester O’Flynn in ‘The Good News of Mathew’s Year’

Anger destroyed his life
Two great men were born in the year 1564 A.D. One man- Shakespeare lived to the age of fifty-two and became the greatest dramatist of the English language. The other- Christopher Marlow perished midway in his life at the age of twenty-nine, because of his anger. Christopher wrote some of the best tragical plays at a very young age. One of his best plays is “The tragical life of Dr. Faustus.” Had he lived longer he probably would have become greater than Shakespeare. He was a man given to anger. He picked up a quarrel with a man in a tavern. That man challenged him to a sword fight unto death. They both fought and Christopher was mortally wounded and later succumbed to his injuries. A great promise was terminated because of anger.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

 

“Take me to a better neighbourhood!”
Several years ago William F. Merton of Mt. Clements, Michigan, wrote to Reader’s Digest to tell of a memorable argument he had with his wife. The argument was well underway as they left the party one evening. Once they were in the car, words were flying. The area they were driving through was not the best, so they stopped arguing just long enough to lock the doors. Then they started again. Merton’s wife had really worked up a storm, and after a few choice words from him, she shouted, “Stop the car and let me get out!” Merton pulled over to the curb. His wife unlocked the door and got out, but then looked around and got back in again. Looking a little sheepish she said, “Take me to a better neighbourhood.”
William F. Merton in “Our Argument….Argument too” –Reader’s Digest Oct. 1983

The Forbidden Anger
Little Johnny had a quarrel with his younger brother, Willy. Before he said his night prayers, Johnny’s mother said to him, “Now I want you to forgive your brother.” But Johnny was not in a forgiving mood.” No, I won’t forgive him”, he said. Mother tried persuasions of every motherly variety, but nothing worked. Finally she said, “What if your brother were to die tonight? How would you feel if you knew that you hadn’t forgiven him?” Johnny gave in or so it seemed. “Alright, I forgive him,” he said, “but if he is alive in the morning, I’ll get even with him.” The gospel invites us to reconcile with our brothers and sisters before we come to him.
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’


Develop the virtue of forgiveness
Once the son of King Louis XVI was taken prisoner by a rival nation and sent to the torture room. The French Dauphin was held prisoner by one of the most difficult jailors. The jailor was waiting to lay his hands upon this poor helpless child, for having been born into the royal family. Everyday, the jailor would increase his torture a little more, and each time the child would quietly bear it all, praying to God. One day the jailor asked him, “What would you do, Carpeto, if the Vendeanos set you free? What would you do with me? Would you have me hanged?” The little boy smiled and said: “I would forgive you.” Forgiveness is one of the noblest virtues of man. As St. Francis of Sales once said, “If, someone in hatred were to pluck out my left eye, I think I could look kindly at him with my right eye. If he plucked that one out too, I would still have the heart with which to love him.”
G. Francis Xavier in ‘101 Inspiring Stories’


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From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection:

1. "I've got good news and bad news."

A cartoon in a national magazine showed Moses with two tablets under his arm coming down a mountain. "I've got good news and bad news," he said. "the good news is I got Him down to ten. The bad news is adultery is still in there." Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard once said: "Most people believe that the Christian Commandments are intentionally a little too severe, like setting a clock half an hour ahead to make sure of not being late in the morning." Cable TV wizard, Ted Turner said that the Ten Commandments are out of date. I wonder which ones he would scrap. "Thou shalt not kill?" Absurd. Or "Thou shalt not steal?" Try stealing CNN's signal without paying for it. Probably he had in mind, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Turner has been wrong before. The Ten Commandments will never be obsolete. Adultery is just as serious now as then. And Jesus did not intentionally make his teachings a little too severe. He knew that happiness comes from living according to God's laws. Breaking those laws, or sinning, brings unhappiness and even death. The life of integrity, or righteousness, is the life God intends for us to live. So, according to the Sermon on the Mount integrity is a big deal.

2. "Never curse the umpire:  

Angelo Bartlett Giamatti was the President of Yale University, and later, the seventh Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Giamatti loved baseball. He felt that the structure of the game was a paradigm of the human journey in which all of us seek to break from the box, make a wide turn and get home safely. At his memorial service, Giamatti's son recalled endless hours in which his father (clad in a vest, a tie and a Red Sox cap) pitched them in to him. His son also recalled a word of advice, forcefully delivered after a Little League argument at first base (with father admonishing son): "Never curse the umpire. He's the only one who knows the rules." It was Giamatti's contention, you see, that the beauty of the game ... indeed, the very ballet of the game ... required someone who could define the difference between ball and strike, fair and foul, safe and out, and who could also articulate the rules that give the game its structure. For the rules are to baseball as the law is to life. They are not the game. But without them, the game has no meaning. Or, as a character exclaims in Woody Allen's excellent film Crimes and Misdemeanors: "Without the law, all is darkness." In today’s Gospel, Jesus reinterprets the Mosaic laws giving them a new meaning. 

3.  Bless my ex-sister. 
Two sisters spent the day fighting. That evening they prepared for bed, still mad at each other. As usual, each knelt by the side of her bed for their prayers. "Dear God," the 8-year-old began, "Bless Daddy and Mommy, bless our cat and dog." Then she stopped. Her mother gently prodded, "Didn’t you forget somebody?" She glared across the bed at her 6-year-old sister and added, "And, oh yes, God, bless my ex-sister." [Pulpit Resource (Jan-Mar 1992), p. 14.]

4. You win the war: 
My wife and I have a rule. We don't fight on Saturday nights. You know why? Because I have to preach on Sunday morning. Now I don't want you to get the idea that we fight the other six nights of the week. Quite frankly, I gave her an unconditional surrender several years ago. Husbands, let me teach you a lesson that will save you a lot of grief. When it comes to your wife, if you lose the battle, you win the war. (Rev. Curtis Fussell).
 
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From Sermon Illustrations:

LAW
What then?  Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!
 Romans 6:15.

Some years ago, I had a little school for young Indian men and women, who came to my home in Oakland, California, from the various tribes in northern Arizona. One of these was a Navajo young man of unusually keen intelligence. One Sunday evening, he went with me to our young people's meeting. They were talking about the epistle to the Galatians, and the special subject was law and grace. They were not very clear about it, and finally one turned to the Indian and said, "I wonder whether our Indian friend has anything to say about this."
He rose to his feet and said, "Well, my friends, I have been listening very carefully, because I am here to learn all I can in order to take it back to my people. I do not understand all that you are talking about, and I do not think you do yourselves. But concerning this law and grace business, let me see if I can make it clear. I think it is like this. When Mr. Ironside brought me from my home we took the longest railroad journey I ever took. We got out at Barstow, and there I saw the most beautiful railroad station and hotel I have ever seen. I walked all around and saw at one end a sign, 'Do not spit here.' I looked at that sign and then looked down at the ground and saw many had spitted there, and before I think what I am doing I have spitted myself. Isn't that strange when the sign say, 'Do not spit here'?
"I come to Oakland and go to the home of the lady who invited me to dinner today and I am in the nicest home I have been in. Such beautiful furniture and carpets, I hate to step on them. I sank into a comfortable chair, and the lady said, 'Now, John, you sit there while I go out and see whether the maid has dinner ready.' I look around at the beautiful pictures, at the grand piano, and I walk all around those rooms. I am looking for a sign; and the sign I am looking for is, 'Do not spit here,' but I look around those two beautiful drawing rooms, and cannot find a sign like this. I think 'What a pity when this is such a beautiful home to have people spitting all over it -- too bad they don't put up a sign!' So I look all over that carpet, but cannot find that anybody have spitted there. What a queer thing! Where the sign says, 'Do not spit,' a lot of people spitted. Where there was no sign at all, in that beautiful home, nobody spitted. Now I understand! That sign is law, but inside the home it is grace. They love their beautiful home, and they want to keep it clean. They do not need a sign to tell them so. I think that explains the law and grace business."
As he sat down, a murmur of approval went round the room and the leader exclaimed, "I think that is the best illustration of law and grace I have ever heard."
H. A. Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth, Moody Press, 1945, pp. 40-42.

The law is the light that reveals how dirty the room is, not the broom that sweeps it clean. 
Dr. Phil Williams, DTS, 1976.

A duck hunter was with a friend in the wide-open land of southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon he could hear crackling as the wind shifted. He realized the terrible truth; a brush-fire was advancing, so fast they couldn't outrun it. Rifling through his pockets, he soon found what he was looking for--a book of matches. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. They didn't have to wait long. They covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near--and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt, untouched. Fire would not pass where fire already had passed.
The law is like a brush fire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, not a hair of my head will be singed. Christ's death has disarmed it. 
Adapted from Who Will Deliver Us? by Paul F. M. Zahl.

According to a 3rd century rabbi, Moses gave 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. David reduced them to 11 in Psalm 15. Isaiah made them 6 (Isaiah 33:14, 15). Micah 6:8 binds them into 3 commands. Habbakuk reduces them all to one great statement: The just shall live by faith.
Source Unknown.

LAW, PURPOSE OF
Evangelist Fred Brown used three images to describe the purpose of the law. First he likened it to a dentist's little mirror, which he sticks into the patient's mouth. With the mirror he can detect any cavities. But he doesn't drill with it or use it to pull teeth. It can show him the decayed area or other abnormality, but it can't provide the solution. Brown then drew another analogy. He said that the law is also like a flashlight. If suddenly at night the lights go out, you use it to guide you down the darkened basement stairs to the electrical box. When you point it toward the fuses, it helps you see the one that is burned out. But after you've removed the bad fuse, you don't try to insert the flashlight in its place. You put in a new fuse to restore the electricity. In his third image, Brown likened the law to a plumb line. When a builder wants to check his work, he uses a weighted string to see if it's true to the vertical. But if he finds that he has made a mistake, he doesn't use the plumbing to correct it. He gets out his hammer and saw. The law points out the problem of sin; it doesn't provide a solution.
Fred Brown.

LAW, fulfilled in Christ
A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. 
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail." 
But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp. 91-2.
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It was my most embarrassing moment in the sixth grade. At recess my friend Johnny had done something I did not like. After returning to class I decided to send a message to him. As Mrs. Ferguson wrote on the blackboard I scribbled a message on a piece of paper, folded it into a type of glider that would sail, then tossed it in the direction of Johnny. That aerial production must have been flawed. It made a left turn and headed toward the teacher's desk just as she turned away from the blackboard. Then with horror I remembered that I had signed the note. She retrieved it and read it out loud. After all these years the memory of what I wrote is still clear: "Johnny, you are a fool. (signed) Billy."

Mrs. Ferguson, a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian, took her well-worn Bible from her desk. In those days we had scripture and prayer each morning. She turned quickly to Matthew, chapter 5, and read verse 22: "But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire." I felt lower than a whale's belly. She launched into a fervent sermon that would have made even the vilest sinner repent. She capped it off by saying, "And you, Billy, should be particularly ashamed for writing such words since your father is a minister." That was hitting below the belt, don't you think?

I could not attempt a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount without devoting one sermon to Jesus' words about the forbidden anger. I dedicate it to Mrs. Ferguson.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, given in chapters five through seven of Matthew's Gospel, could be called "Lifestyle in the Kingdom of God." Here we have the party platform of the Kingdom. It contains exalted expectations, the most radical ethical standards ever articulated. Notice that in verse 21 Jesus said, "You have heard it said of old...but I say unto you." That one who spoke of old was Moses. Jesus was placing himself on the same level as Moses or higher. Some regarded that as the height of presumption...
 
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Some of us are born with green thumbs - able to water and plant barren landscapes into lush gardens.
 
Some of us are born with gangrene thumbs - unable even to grow a "Chia Pet."

Some people are born with the ability to take things apart and put things back together. They are handy-dandy, fixer-uppers from the get go.

But in the most shallow part of the wading area of that "fixer-upper" gene pool, there are those of us who should never be allowed to handle hammers, screwdrivers, or saws. There are those (like me) who find "Plumbing for Dummies" more challenging than a dissertation on quantum mechanics.

All of us have our special gifts; all of us have our special limitations for those things fixable or tweak-able. But, as we so often fail to realize, not everything in life can be "fixed." Nor was everything meant to be.

Cars and plumbing are areas of expertise some of us can "fix." But soul growth or church growth, the bringing forth of new life, the conceiving of new blooms of vitality and vigor, is something none of us can bring about by "fixing" the body of Christ. New life in the Spirit only comes from one source. That source is God. Dr. Alex Abraham, a well-known neurosurgeon in northern India who is an expert in India's 4000 people groups, 400 languages, and 600,000 villages in a nation of 1.2 billion people, echoes Paul's words for today when he says this: "We cannot grow God's church. Anyone can build a church building, but only God can grow a church. None of us can grow a tree or even vegetables."

That's why the language of "church growth" is problematic... 
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Anger: Kilkenny Cats

Jesus warns us against anger, and reminds us to find a better way to resolve our conflicts. It is impossible to avoid confrontations and conflict, but we should never let anger poison our relationships or lead to damage that is impossible to undo. It reminds me of a traditional Irish poem:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many;
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails,
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren't any.

When anger takes over, irrational actions can lead to self-destruction and harm to others. While the cats of Kilkenny might not be unable to control their animal nature, Jesus reminds us we certainly can.

Traditional
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The Skeleton at the Feast

Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, p. 117.
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 Anger: I Told You Not to Bite

We are told that a rattlesnake, if cornered, will bite itself.  Anger and resentment are like that.  They are destructive and not only to others, but to ourselves as well. And so we ask, "How do we deal with anger in a constructive way?  What are some guidelines?"

 In the first place, we need to see that there are times when people ought to express their anger.  That is something that a lot of good, sweet, nice, decent people need to realize. When Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, he did not mean for us to become doormats for everyone to walk on.  Certainly he was no doormat.  Remember how he drove the tax collectors out of the temple (Mt. 21:12-17; John 2:13-22)? He was angry with those who criticized him for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5 even uses the word "anger"). And in Matthew 23:17 he called the Pharisees "blind fools."
 
So we conclude that there is a place for anger. We are wrong if we take these words to mean that all anger is sin. Paul tells us, "Be angry and do not sin" (Eph 4:26). There are times when expressing our anger is the proper thing to do.
 
There is an old story of a Swami at a village temple in Bengal, who claimed to have mastered anger.  When his ability to control his anger was challenged, he told the story of a cobra who used to sit by the path and bite people on their way to the temple.
 
The Swami went to visit with the snake to end the problem.  Using a mantra, he called the snake to him and brought it into submission.  Telling the snake that it was wrong to bite people, the Swami persuaded it to promise never to do it again. And when the people saw that the snake now made no move to bite them, they grew unafraid. 
 
Unfortunately, before long the village boys were tormenting the poor snake by dragging it through the village.  Later the Swami again visited the snake to see if he had kept his promise.  He found the snake miserable and hurting.  The Swami, on seeing this, exclaimed, "You are bleeding.  Tell me how this has come to be." 
 
The snake was in anguish and blurted out that he had been abused ever since the Swami had made him promise to stop biting people. To which the swami said, "I told you not to bite, but I did not tell you not to hiss."

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, adapted from Carol Tavris, The Misunderstood Emotion
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Truth Tellers

For generations, the Quakers refused to follow our legal system's requirement that witnesses in court must place their hand upon a bible and "swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." They were criticized, and ridiculed and in some cases, incarcerated for their refusal to take an oath. But because they have gained the reputation of being honest people, they are, in some courts, no longer required to swear on the bible. They are known as truth-tellers.

Perhaps the old joke that we have told for generations is not just funny but also true. Lena says to her husband "Ole, why don't you tell me you love me anymore?" And Ole replies "I told you fifty years ago that I loved you, and if that ever changes, I'll let you know." Even Ole was a truth-teller.

Steve Molin, The Power of a Promise
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Destructive Anger

In the Spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine.
The Orioles' John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.

Anger, my brothers and sisters, is destructive. It poisons relationships. It often brings violence.

Adrian Dieleman, Be First to Seek Reconciliation 
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The Effects of Insults

Obviously, murder is not the only outcome of anger. Other harm can be done as well. Angry words can wound with insult. Have you ever been hurt...REALLY hurt...by what someone said to you? It has happened to most of us.

Let me tell you about an elderly lady, a shy and sensitive lady who lived to be just three weeks shy of her 100th birthday. When she was a young girl, about ten years old or so, somebody told her that she had a terrible singing voice. Now, most of us, I guess, would not let that remark bother us particularly, but it DID bother this lady. Ten years old is a tender age. It bothered her so much that, for the remaining 90 years of her life, she never sang another note. No one had any idea whether she had a good voice or a bad voice; she would never take the chance of letting anyone find out, and all because of one person's careless and unfeeling insult.

David E. Leininger, Make it Right!
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 As Forgiving As Children

Many people today struggle with forgiveness, and yet we cannot become the people Jesus intends us to become until we are able to forgive the wrongs of others and seek reconciliation.

The goal, then, is for us to love other people in the same way that God loves us. Leo Buscalgia writes of observing two children having an argument. The children were quarreling over some insignificant things. "You're stupid!" one said to the other. "Well, so are you!" the other replied. "Not as stupid as you!" the first one said. "Oh, yeah?" the other one said. "That's what you think."

When Buscalgia passed by the playground not more than ten minutes later, these two children were playing together again, having forgotten the whole thing. "No brooding, no wounded egos, no blame, no dredging up the past, no recriminations," Buscalgia writes. There it was, a brief and honest exchange of angry feelings, an even briefer cooling off period, and all was forgiven. "Children are certainly much more forgiving than adults," Buscalgia concludes. "Somewhere in the process of growing up we seem to have become experts at holding grudges, cradling fragile egos and unforgiving natures."

Leo F. Buscalgia, Born for Love (New York: Slack, Inc., 1992), p. 202.
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 Get Rid of Your Anger

Don't let your anger fester and grow. Act quickly. Get rid of it. It will do you no good.
 Author Kent Crockett tells about Sam and Jacqueline Pritchard, a British couple, who started receiving mysterious phone calls to their home in the middle of the night. The person on the other end never said anything. After a long pause, he would hang up.

The Pritchards changed their phone number to stop the harassing night calls. The stalker changed his tactic. He started sending them obscene and threatening anonymous letters in the mail. Then the problems escalated. The couple discovered their house had been daubed with paint, and their tires were slashed. The Pritchards became prisoners in their own home and spent a small fortune on a security system. Here's what was puzzling they had no idea what they had done to deserve such cruel treatment.

After four months of unexplained terrorism, they finally met the perpetrator. Mr. Pritchard caught James McGhee, a 53-year-old man, while he was damaging their car. As they looked at each other, Pritchard asked him, “Why are you doing this to us?”
The vandal responded, “Oh, no—I’ve got the wrong man!” McGhee thought he was terrorizing a different man, who had been spreading rumours about him. He had looked up Pritchard’s name and address in the telephone directory and assumed he was the person responsible for slandering him. He got the wrong Pritchard.
Assumptions make us jump to the wrong conclusions, and others suffer as a result.
(Kent Crockett, I Once Was Blind But Now I Squint, Chattanooga, TN: