p. Luis CASASUS | President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, February 12, 2023 | VI Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sir 15:16-21; 1Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5,17-37.
1. Authentically comply with the Law. It would be naive for us to think that the Law to which Jesus refers in today’s Gospel text was a code full of articles, like those written today. It is not so. The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, are a true story of love between God and his chosen people. And neither can we think that all those who centered their lives on that Law were perverse, rigid and insensitive.
A good example to the contrary is Ben Sirach himself, who speaks to us in today’s First Reading. It seems that he was a master of spiritual life, already an old man when he wrote the Ecclesiasticus (or Book of Sirach), whose teachings were appreciated for many centuries, especially to train the young, because the depth of his teaching, his poetic style and his simplicity, truly attract attention.
Today, with his words, he prepares us for the message we receive from Christ. He tells us that we can indeed choose between good and evil and, more importantly, God teaches us what is right: 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. It is a prelude to the sublime teaching we receive from Jesus in today’s Gospel. Providence is not mistaken and was preparing the arrival of Jesus with the different religions, especially “with the Law and the Prophets” of the Jewish people. The Scripture is always true, Jesus said (Jn 10: 35).
And it is beautiful and consoling to hear Him say that He has come to fulfill, to “give fullness” to the Law and the word of the Prophets. Naturally, the appropriate question is how can WE give fullness in our lives to the Law and the Prophets? In fact, the Gospel gives us a concise and precise answer through the experience of St. Paul:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).
If we believe that bearing the burdens of others means “To bear patiently those who wrong us,” we are surely not mistaken, for this is one of the works of mercy. But there is more, because “bearing”, even if it is with patience and is a generous act, is centered on myself, on not falling into despair, anger or discouragement. And although this form of endurance may be demanding and admirable, it is only one dimension of what the Gospel Spirit asks of us.
Moreover, if we look carefully at our experience as mediocre disciples of Christ (I speak now of my personal case), we realize that the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart goes far beyond patient endurance. He seeks by all means to show what we truly are, as it is often said “the best version of ourselves”. And, therefore, he also desires of us that we help our neighbor to see what God expects of him. This is where patience takes on a truly evangelical character.
If we are able to try again and again, if we do not tire because we do not see the expected results, let us remember that the divine vision is different and, for Him, we will have fulfilled the law of Christ.
We see this clearly in Christ’s attitude with the first disciples, announcing them that they were called to be fishers of men; also in his dialogue with the rich young man, to whom he made him see what he had enough to live a full life; even with Judas Iscariot, the betraying disciple, to whom he gave abundant and clear signs of trust.
There is a story told of a painter who arrived one day in a small town and set himself up in the town square offering portrait paintings. For a few days he sat in the square with no one purchasing a portrait. On the fourth day the artist approached the town drunk (whom he had noticed earlier) and said, Listen, come and let me paint your portrait. I need to keep my skills up and at the end you will have a free portrait. The man agreed. He sat in the portrait chair and straightened himself up as best he could. The painter looked at him silently, reflected for a few moments, smiled and began to paint. The painting continued for a few days but the painter would never allow the man to view the painting while it was in progress.
Finally, the portrait was completed. The painter handed the portrait to the man and the man’s mouth fell open. Pictured in the painting was not a town drunk but an accomplished man – there was a gleam in his eyes, he held a steady gaze. Instead of scruffy clothes and a disheveled appearance, the man was clean shaven and wore a nice suit. What is this? demanded the man, you have not painted me. You are right, replied the painter calmly, I have not painted you as you now are but as the man whom you might become.
Our heavenly Father knows who we are but He also knows who we can be. Jesus calls us to go beyond just ourselves, to go beyond the precepts of the law, in teaching others to be holy or the best version of themselves. In this way, we respond to the words of St Paul that God is revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.
2. The little things. Christ speaks to us today of the fullness of the Law, but he also gives us a clear clue to attain it. The Book of Sirach already spoke of this: He who despises little things will gradually fall (Sir 19:1).
Surely, what is most clearly observed in us is that the “little things” gradually change our sensibility, making us capable of justifying the compensations we find in those little things. Thus, we come to commit actions that before seemed unimaginable and that do terrible harm, as is the case of abuse of authority or sexual abuse. Generally, the wounds caused are incurable. But it all starts with the little things.
It once happened that two sinners visited a holy man and asked his advice. We have done wrong, they said, and our consciences are troubled. What must we do to be forgiven?
The pious man responded, tell me of your wrongdoing, my sons. The first man said, I committed a great and grievous sin. The second man said: I have done some small things, nothing much to worry about.
The pious man responded: Now go and bring me a stone for each sin. The first man came back with a BIG STONE. The second man brought a bag of small stones. Now, said the holy man, Go and put them back where you found them. The first man lifted the rock and struggled back to the place where he had gotten it. The second man could not remember where half of the stones belonged, so he gave up, it was like too much work.
The holy man said: Sins are like these stones. If man commits a great sin, it is like a heavy stone on his conscience, but with true sorrow, it is removed completely. But the man who is constantly committing small sins which he knows to be wrong, gets hardened to them and feels no sorrow. So he remains a sinner.
So you see my sons, it is important to avoid little sins just as the big ones. Big sins and little sins are the same. They are all sins.
As for the positive side of the “little things”, it also happens that we miss opportunities, due to a real lack of faith, which does not allow us to believe does not allow us to believe in the value of a glass of water, of a kind gesture, of allowing a person to speak without drowning him with my opinions and experiences.
3. An example of small things: the forms of violence. Christ proposes today several cases of “living the perfection of the law”. Let us look at his observation about the command NOT TO KILL. I don’t think many of us have continual temptations to commit murder or manslaughter, but he speaks of insult and anger.
Already in the language of the world, the dictionary defined violence as “the use of physical force to injure, mistreat, harm or destroy.”
This overly narrow definition limits violence to physical acts, and thus does not recognize any form of psychological violence.
But the World Health Organization makes a greater effort to include various forms of violence, describing it as “the intentional use of physical force or power, whether threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, death, psychological harm, developmental disturbance or deprivation.”
By mentioning force or power, it stresses that power can also be of a mental or psychological nature. By including threat or act, he recognizes that insinuating the use of force, even if not acted upon, is also violence. Pope Francis also refers many times to backbiting.
In reality, there are many subtle, camouflaged forms of killing.
Among the dead, we find those to whom we have sworn not to speak to, those to whom we have denied forgiveness, those we have continued to accuse of mistakes done, those whose good name we have destroyed by gossips or slanders, those whom we have deprived of love and the joy of living.
Jesus teaches that the commandment that orders not to kill has so many implications that go well beyond the physical assault. One who uses offensive words, gets angry, nourishes sentiments of hatred has already killed one’s brother/sister (v. 22).
The murder always starts from the heart. One cannot hate a person and continues to feel at peace with oneself. One cannot kill if he is not convinced of having to deal with one who is not human who does not deserve to live and must be eliminated. This smearing work is carried out with the words, repeating to oneself, as a ruthless refrain: He is a fool, he is crazy, he is insensitive. So one arrives, without remorse, to pronounce the sentence: he deserves to disappear from my life.
If we reflect a little more, we understand that Christ invites us to give life, which is represented in his advice to make peace with our neighbor, because knowing you are forgiven is truly to receive peace, to be able to live in freedom and, finally, to realize that God loves us through his small and mediocre “instruments of peace”, as St. Francis of Assisi said, and that each one of us can be.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,