If you wish, you can keep the commandments,
to behave faithfully is within your power.
He has set fire and water before you;
put out your hand to whichever you prefer.
Man has life and death before him;
whichever a man likes better will be given him.
For vast is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is almighty and all-seeing.
His eyes are on those who fear him,
he notes every action of man.
He never commanded anyone to be godless,
he has given no one permission to sin.
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
We have a wisdom to offer those who have reached maturity: not a philosophy of our age, it is true, still less of the masters of our age, which are coming to their end. The hidden wisdom of God which we teach in our mysteries is the wisdom that God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. It is a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known, or they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory; we teach what scripture calls: the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.
These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
‘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.
‘You have learnt 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 hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.
‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.
‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away”
As Catholics, we often find ourselves existing in two dimensions of reality. On the one hand, we live in an increasingly secularised society that views religion with either suspicion or derision. On the other hand, we also try our very best to live our spiritual reality as faithful disciples of God. Certainly, both are important to us. But it is also true that both tend to pull us in opposite directions. This is all the more so for those who have been baptised as adults, like me.
Being the first and only baptised Catholic in my family, my relationship with elder family members has become increasingly strained with every year that passes. It has also become increasingly difficult to talk about issues that matter to me, but which may not be acceptable by the general cultural milieu of the times, such as my pro-life stance or the sanctity of marriage and family. And hence I exist in a strange duality of sorts, engaging in polite conversation about things of little importance with friends, relatives and colleagues but praying together with my faith community about our eternal fellowship with God. It is a difficult duality to navigate.
As the old song goes, “Torn between two lovers, feelin’ like a fool. Lovin’ both of you is breakin’ all the rules”.
It is indeed not possible to love both worlds. As today’s reading emphasises:
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
Our obedience and faithfulness to our Lord may sometimes require that we stand firm against views that contravene our beliefs or efforts to sway our faith in God. We must be brave and not fear derision. As Jesus has told us in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-10). Just as Jesus chose obedience to God even until the point of death, so too must we choose obedience to God at the risk of persecution and derision.
(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)
Prayer: Lord, we ask for the strength and grace to continue living out Your will. May You continue to provide us with the spiritual sustenance necessary for being Your faithful disciples.
Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank You for your Word and Your wisdom. We thank You for being there always, yes even during the hard times.