God’s Wisdom, Mysterious and Hidden

February 8, 2017

Thoughts on the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

“We speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory.” -I Corinthians 2:7

The Gospel readings of the last two Sundays speak of Jesus proclaiming God’s kingdom. Like the character, Raphael Hythloday of St. Thomas More’s, Utopia, Jesus comes to us as one quite knowledgeable in the customs and culture of a foreign sovereignty and explains in some detail how the society works. First, Jesus begins by speaking of the happiness of the society, the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor…” and “Blessed are the merciful….” Then, on the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church reads the Gospel following immediately after the beatitudes teaching that as his disciples, his disciples are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As ambassadors, the disciples of Christ represent God’s kingdom in its values, manners of action and ways of thinking. If Christians do not act as citizens of this kingdom, then it what sense can they be considered ambassadors whose essential job is to make known the goodness of the polity they represent to other nations? This Sunday, the Gospel of Matthew continues the proclamation with Jesus expounding on the laws of this divine society.

It is here that Jesus reveals that the seeds of this kingdom were planted long ago in the form of the commandments. Jesus reaffirms the Law and the prophets upon which Jewish society was founded upon. Mosaic law and the heritage of the prophets are inseparably the standard of Jewish religion, political philosophy, morality, history, cultural tradition, and constitution. In a word, the Old Testament is the record of the gestation period of God’s Kingdom which was to break forth through the governance and culture of the Semitic people. Jesus again restates that not even the smallest part of the letter of the law will be done away with. Rather, in the fulfillment of this new kingdom, the law will instead be developed and adhered to more deeply.

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     As we progress through the gospel we hear Jesus speaking of the key features of Mosaic Law. First, about the commandment against murder, then, adultery, divorce and, finally, oaths. These commandments would have been familiar to the Jewish people who studied their scriptures and listened to the explanation of their rabbis. Jesus says it is not enough to merely not kill, not act in adultery, follow the Mosaic Law on divorce, and make good on your promises. The Kingdom of God demands a perfection in charity such that not even malicious feelings ever into the heart of its citizens.

Let us examine for a moment what Christ is saying in this socially foundational and most basic commandment–the commandment against murder. It is not so lofty a thought to think that a working polity demands that its citizens do not kill each other. Christ begins there and says that it is not only unlawful to kill, he goes on to say that the path to murder is also unlawful in God’s kingdom. Anger, saying,”Raqa” which amounts to threats of harm (‘Raqa’ means to pound, strike, pummel or in some cases to spread out), and insults which may incite conflict are also unlawful. None of these things are in themselves murder, but these are the sorts of things that are often the prior conditions escalating a situation where murder becomes a real temptation. However, this raises another question: is it possible to adhere to this kind of law? Isn’t it unreasonable to legislate regarding people’s emotions and inner thoughts? Of course, Jesus is not proposing a new political philosophy in the external sense. Rather, Jesus is speaking to the individuals of every society on an internal, personal and spiritual level. In this way, we can surpass the demands of the law and experience the joy of heaven here and now.

While it is possible, mankind has rarely seen it on the face of the Earth. I speak of the rare cases of saints. These are the verifiable ambassadors of God’s kingdom, those who have worked to make the Earth “as it is in heaven.” While they are rare in a public sense, there is a saint buried in all people. It is more than possible to follow the letter of the law against murder. Most people we meet are not nor have ever been murderers. But of the same people, how many reveal the way diametrically opposed to the thinking associated with murder, adultery, divorce, and false oaths? This is what it means when the Lord says to Peter right before he washes his feet, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Unless we are willing to lay down every unhealthy attachment, any that hinders union with God, we will continue to live out a hell where we insult, threaten and become angry with just about anyone whom we disagree. Tragically, today, this even includes ourselves.

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     The call of Jesus is to moral transcendence. He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Paul also speaks of this in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that if you are led by the spirit, “you are not under the law.” All of this is to say that the kingdom of God is not found in not doing this or that wrong thing. One who does absolutely nothing avoids contravention of such laws. Citizens of God’s kingdom, however, are active and powerful agents in the will and wisdom of their sovereign. The truly spiritual do the will of God. What does that mean exactly? Well, that is the topic for next Sunday’s Gospel.

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