Browsing Homilies

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sir 15:15-20 | Ps 119 | 1 Cor 2:6-10 | Mt 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Ask anyone for their definitions, understandings, and experiences of obedience, and you will be greeted with lots of grumbling and complaints. Children often feel like their lives are spent doing nothing but obeying their parents, teachers, coaches, and older siblings. And being obedient to God is just one more requirement in their rigid experience of life—to them, obedience is usually a list of rules, black-and-white yes’s and no’s that govern their every action.

Maybe even as adults this is our experience of work life or of religion and right relationship with God. In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus smashes these expectations and connotations, however. Yes, faithful Jews such as Jesus himself have obeyed the many specific and somewhat strict Torah laws given by Moses, yet while Jesus makes clear that he isn’t here to abolish these laws, he fulfills the law by setting a few things straight.

First, Jesus invites his followers and all of us today to rethink our relationship with obedience to the law. So often, the focus rests upon the specifics of what we can or cannot do: the law itself. Christ highlights that which is buried behind the laws—the motivations, emotions, and values—using the commandments against murder, adultery, and divorce as his examples.

Ideally, you and I aren’t obedient to one another or to God simply out of a power gap, fear of retribution, or mere duty; ideally, we begin as children listening to our parents out of love, respect, and honor. Likewise, the best teachers and coaches earn their students’ trust through cultivating positive, caring relationships. While the fear of being condemned has motivated many of us to follow the Ten Commandments and the Catechism, the Church has (hopefully) moved past fear- and power-driven motivators in favor of a focus on healthy relationships with oneself, the community, creation, and God.

What would our faith look like if our focus was truly on the motivation behind the rules and laws rather than the law itself? In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus paints a picture of lives lived without the sins of anger and lust. To be clear, Jesus doesn’t imagine a superhuman life without any emotion or temptation; instead, he describes how disciples are called to defuse anger and pursue reconciliation in our broken relationships.

Scripture scholar Barbara Reid writes, “Killing another person is the epitome of broken relationships.” Thus, when a relationship is beyond repair, broken rather than bent or damaged, our anger is prone to be out of control and therefore damaging—not just to the other person but to ourselves, God, and the entire Body of Christ, to which we belong.

Consider the spaces and outlets, privately and publicly, in which anger is typically expressed. Whether expressed in a rant or text to a friend or a post on social media, anger is both a symptom and a root cause of damaged relationships.

Psychological studies actually show that the more emotional attention we dedicate to something the more acute and powerful the emotion we experience. Venting our anger, therefore, leads to more anger. Christ challenged his followers to exercise detachment and healthy boundaries to so that emotions do not control them and cause more harm.

Obedience to God or neighbor comes out of right relationship. If anger or lust comes about and overwhelms, that’s a sign to examine our relationships and motivations. Obedience isn’t simply following a list of rules out of obligation; but rather, it springs forth from love, trust, and faithful relationship with one another.


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