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Homily for Sixth Sunday in ordinary time, A

10 Feb 2017, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Sermons

One of the greatest gifts God has given to man is the gift of freedom, the gift of free will.  We are open to serve God or to serve idols and be held responsible for every one of our deliberate actions. It is evident in our first reading this morning that fire and water, life and death, has been set before us, and the choice is ours. Whichever we prefer will be given to us, and whatever we choose to be becomes our identity.

Some early Christians struggled with this identity crisis because they were mainly Jews who believed in the law and the prophets so much that no other teaching meant anything to them. No wonder many Jews rejected Jesus Christ because they saw him as one with a new teaching, something different from the law and the prophets. He was arrested and crucified as a lawbreaker, turning the people against the law and the prophets. But Jesus had said: Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. In other words, Jesus did not come with new teaching but a new and deeper understanding of the same old law and the prophets.

The law and the prophets are the words of God, and Jesus is the word of God made flesh. In him is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets; he has come to lead us into the complete truth, into the truth about the word of God.  He teaches the fact that every word ever spoken by God will come to pass; it’s like the rain and the snow that will not return to heaven without first doing what they were sent to do (Is. 55;10-11). Just as the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Christ, so also will every word was spoken by Christ will be fulfilled in our lives. If he says he loves you, then he truly loves you. If he says, repent, then he truly means we should repent. And if he says there will be a judgment on the last day, he truly means that there will be judgment. He has not come to abolish the word but teach us to learn to hold unto the word, trust in the word, and let the word of God be our rule of life.

The word may be ineffective if we do not really understand it, for we cannot hold onto what we do not know or understand. It is that true knowledge of the word, that deep understanding Jesus brings to us. In our gospel passage this morning, he says that …if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. Our understanding of the law and the prophets must go beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees because the word has taken flesh and dwells among us. He is with us, and that is why his name is Emmanuel.

Jesus did not abolish the law and the prophets. He says: You have learned how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill, and if anyone does kill, he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool,” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hellfire. By this statement, Jesus did not in any way abolish the law against killing; he rather confirms it and leads us into a deeper understanding of the law.  The law and the prophets remain, you must not kill, you must not commit adultery, and you must not break your oath, and so on. Without abolishing the law and the prophets, Jesus leads us beyond the letters of the law into the spirit of the law. He leads us beyond the action to intention or desires.

The scribes and the Pharisees believe that to commit murder or to kill is to take someone’s life, but Jesus pushes it further by teaching that who so ever nurses the desire to kill has already killed. Christianity, therefore, is not a religion of mere rules but the heart. That is the reason Jesus teaches that it is not what comes into a man that defiles him but what comes out of him. What comes out of him comes from the heart.

As we celebrate this Sunday, we are challenged to let our virtues go more profound than that of the ‘scribes’ and ‘Pharisees.’  We must transcend the religion of rules to a religion of relationship with God in faith.