HOMILY – FEBRUARY 12
Take note of something the Apostle says in his First Letter to the Corinthians, our second reading this morning: “We speak a wisdom to those who are MATURE, not a wisdom of this age.” It’s amazing how often we Christians display our IM-maturity when it comes to why God commands us to behave in certain ways; while “the age,” “the world,” always seems bent on getting us to disregard those divine commands. The tempter, Satan, the evil one and the prince of this world, is anxious to have us think of the commandments of God as rules or taboos. Once the commandments are reduced in our minds to the level of arbitrary lines we are told not to cross, the whole Christian moral code begins to look inhibiting, restrictive, and foolish. Then the world can back us into a corner, put us in a box, and say, “Go ahead and live your miserable, repressed lives, but don’t force your religion down OUR throats!” We’ve heard that a lot the last few years, haven’t we, whether it has to do with drugs, sex, marriage, abortion, the dignity of work, our stewardship of God’s creation, or just simple manners and consideration for others.
The mature Christian, or at least those who are interested in GROWING in maturity, will listen intently to God’s Word in the Book of Sirach, the first reading: “If you CHOOSE, you can keep the commandments. . . God has set before you fire and water, before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he CHOOSES shall be given him.” The commandments simply show us the way to life, REAL life, life that is worth living, life that lasts forever, infinitely beyond our short time on this earth. If you think that any of the Church’s moral teachings, about personal responsibility, financial responsibility, sexual responsibility, marriage, birth control, the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death, if any of these are mere arbitrary rules from a God who merely wants to test us and doesn’t want us to have any fun, think about this:
You overhear two little boys playing outside the house of one of them. “Let’s go in your house and play,” the other boy suggests.
“We can’t,” says the boy who lives there, “my mom is baking,”
“So what?” his playmate asks.
“She doesn’t want us in the house when she’s baking, because if we run in the kitchen we might touch the stove.”
“So what? It’s just a stove,” the other boy presses. “A stove can’t hurt you. That’s crazy.”
“That’s what I thought when I was three,” says the first boy. “Mom was baking, and she told me to stay out of the kitchen and not to touch the stove, but it looked fine to me. I decided to show her how grown-up I was and how I could do what I wanted to.” He holds out his hand. “See this scar? That’s where I burned it that day.”
“Wow, really?” the other boy says in amazement. “Gee, maybe that’s why my mom doesn’t cook. We always just send out for pizza.”
The point is, God doesn’t give us commandments because he doesn’t want us to enjoy life. No, he gives us commandments so we CAN live happily, both here AND FOREVER, without the scars. And in the Gospel, Jesus expands on the commandments, moving them from relatively simple do’s and don’ts to interior attitudes that can govern our thoughts and so regulate our outward behavior. Sin isn’t wrong because it breaks rules. Sin is wrong because it harms us, and the commandments are given to help us avoid that harm.
Our immaturity in the face of God’s commands can take many forms. “I haven’t been to church in years, and I’m still rich!”
“My girl friend and I have been shacked up for three years, and nothing bad has happened to us!”
“Stuff isn’t wrong unless you get caught.”
“If it’s legal, it means it’s okay to do it.”
“You’re not an alcoholic unless you drink before 5:00. And it’s always 5:00 SOMEWHERE.”
“How much can I goof off at work before it becomes a sin?” And on and on.
See, all these kinds of comments and questions express a real immaturity about the PURPOSE of the moral teaching of Christ and his Church. Asking how far we can go before something becomes a sin means that we’re not really intent on being generous or virtuous. We should be concerned with growing in holiness and WHOLE-ness, not just with avoiding enough evil to keep from going to hell. A person of integrity will never be satisfied with just getting by. Do the bare minimum, and you’re flirting with your own spiritual disaster and ruin. You might not have the spiritual strength to stand firm when a REAL challenge comes along. Jesus invites you to so, so much more than just keeping rules and avoiding taboos. “I come that they may have LIFE,” the Good Shepherd says, “and have it to the full.” Accept his challenge to grow in a mature response to his invitation. Life comes with enough built-in scares and scars without playing with fire — or even a hot stove.