HOMILY WEEK 10 05 Yr I
Holiness and Fidelity
(2 Cor 4:7-15; Ps 116; Mt 5:27-32)
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away!” “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!” What are we to make of these harsh sayings on the part of Jesus in today’s gospel?
Simply put, these sayings are an example of what is called “Semitic hyperbole” or “holy exaggeration” serving to make a point and to underline the critical importance of a lesson. Parents often do this with their children with statements like, “I told you a thousand times not to do that.” The purpose is always for the good of the other, to prevent them from doing themselves needless harm.
So today, Jesus uses Semitic hyperbole to invite us to a greater personal and communal holiness, and fidelity to our commitments. At the same time, he is basically stressing there is nothing more important than that in our lives.
By using Semitic hyperbole, Jesus is calling us to make holiness our priority, and let go of anything that does not belong in our lives. That applies especially to lust, the tendency to objectify others for our own selfish pleasure. Jesus never, ever used his divine power in selfish way, and neither should we.
St. Paul, in the first reading and in his own inimitable way, is saying the same thing. If we really believe in Jesus risen from the dead, and are filled with his love for us, we will die to sin and sinfulness. We will be so rooted and grounded in God’s love for us in Jesus that we will actually carry Christ in our bodies so that the new life of holiness can shine in our way of living.
Jesus also calls us to be faithful to our commitments, with the teaching of no divorce, which to the modern mind also sounds harsh. What are we to make of this teaching?
A first consideration is the difference between a civil divorce, given by the government, and a declaration of nullity, given by the Church when is proven that a wedding ceremony was actually invalid for some reason, and had the whole truth been known, never should have or would have taken place.
The first time I was involved in such a case involved two sixteen-year old persons who were forced to get married by their alcoholic parents who drank and partied together. He was actually hiding in his uncle’s attic the day of the wedding, where someone found him and took him to the church. Fearing the wrath of both sets of parents, he mouthed the words of the vows, but never meant them in his heart. The marriage lasted two years, a request was made to the marriage tribunal, a declaration of nullity granted, and we celebrated a valid marriage which lasted to his death. Some of the elders in that community, however, resisted this event. They had a hard time understanding my explanation that they had witnessed a wedding, but not a marriage, yet that truly was the case.
What Jesus puts forward is the Christian ideal, to which all of us should strive, and many actually live. Then there are some exceptional persons, such as Josephine. Her husband left her for a younger woman, probably because of a mid-life crisis. He basically deserted her, and spent a lot of money pleasing this younger woman. When it was obvious that this was becoming a permanent situation, even faith-filled friends of her advised her to let him go and have a life of her own. She disregarded that advice, refused to divorce him, and kept telling him to leave that woman and come back home.
After he had spent all their money on this younger woman and became sick, the younger woman left him. What is astounding and extra-ordinary is that Josephine welcomed him back joyfully, with gratitude and without resentment! Had she divorced him, she would at least have gotten half of the assets. Her refusal to do that meant she got none of their assets – but that didn’t matter to her. She not only welcomed him back, but ungrudgingly looked after him during his illness until his death. She truly lived the readings of today, a holy and faithful woman, just like the loving father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, only the prodigal one in this case was her husband.
The Eucharist is a sharing in the commitment Jesus made to us to give his life freely on the cross. May our celebration empower us to die to any sin and sinfulness, and to be faithful to the commitments we have made in our lives.