15th / 16th February 2020

posted 17 Feb 2020, 05:48 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (15 & 16/2/20)


“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.”


Does hypocrisy annoy you?  Do you roll your eyes when a politician is caught red-handed, but comes up with a response a bit like, “Well, technically, what I was doing wasn’t really illegal?”  It’s a bit like another well-known response:  “Yes officer, but the money was just merely resting in my account”.  We all know the importance of following not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law.  But how do we go about doing that?


In longer version of today’s Gospel, Jesus picks out three areas where we can all struggle, at different times in our lives:  anger, lust and deceitfulness, which are covered in the Ten Commandments.  Maybe if we don’t know the Ten Commandments off by heart, we at least have an idea of their content.  Back in the first century AD, there we some who took a very narrow reading of them.  So, for example, with the commandment “Do not kill” (or perhaps more accurately rendered, “Do not murder”), they could say that anger was fine, as long as they hadn’t actually killed anyone.  But you know what?  The closer you get to the forbidden line, the greater the chance is that you will actually step over it.  In a time of anger, self-control goes out the window, and then, it’s too late.  Of course the last two commandments speak about desire:  do not covet your neighbour’s wife or your neighbour’s goods; do not long for or desire them.  Desire leads to action, as self-control goes out the window.  Self-control is an area that everyone can struggle with at times, whether it’s around deceitfulness, lust or anger.  Or other areas as well.  What do we do?


The first reading today began with this advice:  “If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power”; and perhaps to give us a bit more motivation it also adds, “[God] has given no one permission to sin”.  Yet we still struggle.  Is it a matter of just having enough willpower?  Is it the case that, if we only had that level of willpower, then maybe we might just be perfect?


In simple terms, no.  The experience of the Jewish people was that, by themselves, they were unable to keep all of the Jewish Law (the Jewish Law means the Ten Commandments and all the other regulations in the first five books of the Old Testament).  In the New Testament, St Paul makes this very point:  knowing the Jewish Law doesn’t automatically enable you to keep it.  It’s just the same as owning a car doesn’t automatically make you a good driver.  First you need some petrol (unless it’s a diesel or electric car), and you also need to know how to drive, as well as to grow in experience on the road.  The same is true of living a virtuous life.  Knowledge of the ways of God is part of it.  But we also need the spiritual petrol:  the grace of God, which we receive in prayer, but also in a particular way in the sacraments of the Church.  Jesus said that He is the vine and we are the branches; cut off from Him, we can do nothing.  Just as branches require sap moving throughout the whole vine, so we, as the Body of Christ, need the grace of God moving through all of us through prayer and the sacraments.  And the analogy with a car continues:  passing your test and putting petrol in the tank doesn’t make you the world’s best driver.  You then need to gain experience on the road, and perhaps make a few mistakes along the way.  It’s sometimes said that quite frequently, newly passed drivers have accidents that don’t involve any other motorists, because they think their car will go round a corner like it’s on rails, so they go too fast and end up skidding into something or turning over.  Over-confidence in the moral life can also lead to similar accidents.  I think I have a good amount of self-control, so I can put myself in situations of danger, knowing I won’t succumb.  But I do anyway.  Pride comes before a fall.


“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.”  We know the importance of avoiding forms of legalism.  We know that virtue has to be more than just skin-deep.  With Christ, with the grace of prayer and the sacraments, we can begin to be the faithful people He is calling us to be.  But we also have to ask ourselves the question:  do I want to be?  If so, then what in my life needs to change?