I have a very good radio to which I listen to the news and to sports events. The stations can be a long distance away and the static and other stations crowding in, can make it hard to hear. The old saying comes true, “I hear what I want to hear.” Sometimes it seems I just will it and I hear it.
When I am not interested in something, well, I don’t listen and so don’t tune in. What I want to hear, want to know, provide the energy for my hearing. As the one who gives the homily, I wonder often what the congregation wants to hear and also what they do not want to hear. Where is their energy for listening?
As we move toward this weekend’s liturgy, we can pray with and reflect a bit upon what we want to hear from God, from the Church, from life. Our personal and family problems get our attention easily. We long to know more, feel deeply, understand mysterious things. We can pray with what we do not want to hear as well. Stay tuned!
Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, is full of wonderful images and wise sayings about most aspects of life. The whole book centers around the depth, presence and practicality of Wisdom. This spirit, this awareness, this sensitivity, is a participation in the Divine. God knows all, created all, loves all and allows us human beings to participate in that Wisdom, but allows us a freedom to exercise just how deeply or to what extent we will share it.
If you have time and interest, it would be very helpful to read and listen to both the chapter before this one from which today’s verses are taken and this entire chapter. The whole Jewish “law” is complete with God’s Wisdom and God has shared it with humanity. Wisdom is living the “law”, not merely keeping it out of fear. The many aspects of the “law” of Moses were meant to guide and invite God’s people to live in harmony, prosperity and fertility. Wisdom is God’s way and we are choosers. We have been given the gift, or burden, of our freedom. Our wisdom is using our knowledge according to our faith in God’s ways.
Near the end of my Jesuit training I asked an older professor whom I trusted, about my going on to study for a Doctorate. He thought a while and then said, “You don’t need more knowledge; you need wisdom.” My response was, “Can I get a Doctorate in Wisdom? Are they not the same?” He responded that my response proved his point. Wisdom is not a degree; it is received by sensing, listening to, living through the experiencing of choices. It is experienced-based, but that includes the ponderings and wonderings and strugglings it takes to make choices and then the patience to live the consequences. It is all about listening and hearing.
Today’s continuation of the Sermon on the Mount contains twenty long verses about what has been heard in the past and what is to be listened to now. Jesus is not spinning the Law and the traditions passed on through the prophets. He is applying a proper spirit to what had become too legalistic. In a sense, the dictates of the “law” were for the head to inform or guide the five senses. The spirit of Jesus is to form the heart as well as the mind.
Mark Twain, an American humorist, of the nineteenth century, once wrote that the New Testament is one of those books you wished everybody else would read. These verses invite security in one sense. Laws are meant for the keeping and the keeping of order. The ways of Jesus invite us to let go of exactness and conformity for the sake of slavish fear of being punished or excluded. This whole Sermon, at the beginning of Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, is not meant for exact execution, but for our interiorizing the heart and mind of Jesus. It is not about doing this or not doing that. It is about the “why” of our doing anything.
For instance, we are encouraged not to lust sexually in our relationships with each other, but why not! It is about reverence of the human body and the sacredness of love and life that is important. This sacredness of life extends to killing all forms of human life as well. Killing relationships with our brothers and sisters is a violation of the new way of living the Old Law as well.
This is a long Gospel today and the whole Sermon takes much pondering. We here in the United States love the exactness of laws so we know what’s right and how we can get around or through or under or above what’s written. God so loved the world that God sent a Relational Person to share the sacredness of our lives and the sacredness of God’s relationship with us. The Wisdom of Jesus is not “how” He lived, but the “why”. He came and continues coming, respectful of our freedom, to encourage us to reverence our lives, the time we have and the lives and times we have with others.
“They ate and were filled; the Lord gave them what they wanted: they were not deprived of their desire.” Ps. 78, 29-30
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