Sunday, 13 February 2011

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Last week, the homily centred on discipleship as salt of the earth and light of the nations. Today, the disciple not only understands the consequences of discipleship but is further reminded of how he is to be salt and light. The Good News is often described as the Gospel of Love, and so today Christ spells out for His disciples how they ought to love. Apart from “do not kill, do not commit adultery and do not swear”, He actually added some pretty stringent rules for His disciples.

The laying down of rules is necessary for any society to function. For example, you either drive on the British left or on the Continental right. You cannot drive left and right at the same time. But just for the matter of speaking, not about driving left or right but just driving in your lane—have you ever driven behind someone who straddles two lanes? I mention this example because it is a cause of my sinning and confessions.

If laws govern civil society, so too laws govern the Church because she resembles society. Church Laws are there to help us live our discipleship to the fullest. Some would reject this assertion. They can accept that civil society needs laws for its healthy functioning but with regard to the Church, they consider “laws or regulations” as inhibiting/hindering the full functioning of the Church. This view may stem from an understanding of what the Gospel of Love really means. For some of us, it is equated, more or less, with a kind spontaneity. No doubt, this view is aided by a distorted image of an “anti-establishment” Jesus. Thus, if we truly love like Jesus loved and want to follow Him, then there should be a lot more flexibility and a lot less rigidity in the Church because love by nature is inclusive, tolerant and most of all forgiving.

The injunction of Christ against divorce can be given a fresh interpretation in the light of a more inclusive, tolerant and accepting love. A person who is divorced and now in a 2nd marriage should not be judged and he or she should be forgiven since everyone is entitled to make mistakes sometime or another in their lives. And since we are personally prone to mistakes, therefore, who are we to judge.

But, this reveals a dichotomy or a double vision in the way we view reality. On the one hand we accept that civility requires laws. But, on the other hand, we believe that anything that describes itself in terms of love must almost exclude discipline. Thus, the Church should be more forgiving and less judgemental. There should be less restrictions and more freedom. [1] This dichotomy is often encountered when people come to the Church and a perennial question raised is: “Why is the Church so rigid and so not understanding?”.

I think the first reading gives us a clue as to why such a double vision exists. It describes making choices in order to live to the fullest. What does it mean? For many of us, both making choices and a full life, are closer in meaning to “spontaneity and freedom” than they are to discipline and commitment. We are socialised into thinking that a full life is markedly spontaneous—to be able to do anything, anytime, anyway and anywhere. Thus, many choices available are necessary to express this spontaneity or the ability to choose from a myriad of choices is indicative of freedom.

But, the act of choosing has a way of limiting us because freedom does not reside in choices available but rather in choosing to be “limited”. Has anyone of you married a spouse who is still behaving as if he or she is not married? I am not speaking of adultery here but really expressing the heartache of some of you who think that by marrying your spouse, he or she would settle down but instead you are faced with a “bachelor/bachelorette” who does not understand its meaning. [2] The act of choosing simply means that in choosing this option, you have closed off the other options. This is the meaning that freedom resides in the act of choosing rather than the choices available. [3] Can I choose rather than what choices available!

We cannot arrogate to ourselves what belongs to the realm of the spirit because we are not gods and not angels unconstrained by time and space. On the contrary, Christ who is God, in being born, subjected Himself to the limitation termed as the scandal of the particular. He came 2000 years ago, not 200 years ago, born of Jewish parents, Mary and Joseph, not Martian parents, Mork and Mindy, born poor, not rich and lived in Palestine and not in Persia. It was within this limited and constrained circumstances that Christ chose to live to the fullest by obeying His Father to the last breath of His earthly existence.

Thus, freedom is not anything, anytime and anyplace “can”. Instead freedom means, “Can I give myself fully to this person, this endeavour, this venture at this place and in this time? So, coming back to this Gospel of Love, we begin to realise how much more defined and demanding love is than a wide-eyed saccharine soft love we imagine the Gospel to be. It requires so much more discipline and regularity and only then it becomes spontaneous in the sense that we spontaneously choose Christ anytime, anyplace over anything and everything else. The meaning of spontaneity is not wild abandonment. Instead, it is a freedom to spontaneously choose God above all else.

In conclusion, with Christ, there is no new standard. In that way, Christ can say that He has come not to abolish the Laws or the Prophets. With Christ, there is a higher standard that places Christianity heights above the world’s measures. It is definitely harder and not just higher because many of us have not fully understood what true freedom entails. Freedom is to embrace a higher calling because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Anything less would be an insult to the Creator and a disfigurement of who we are really made to be.
[1] Sometime an opposition is made between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is often perverted to become something more relaxed and less demanding.

[2] Women are afflicted by this because they often think that they can change a man after marrying him. Ladies, men are like computers: WYSIWYG. If you like him, take him. But if you do not, do not touch him. Seldom men change after marriage. So, enter marriage with both eyes wide open, but close one eye after marriage.

[3] Do you know people marry much older these days? Especially men because no matter what, women are bound by their biological clock. Apart from life being stressful and demanding, the phenomenon of marrying older may be explained by an unquestioned assumption that “many choices” available indicates “greater freedom”. People generally value “more freedom” in choosing. But, the fact is when there are too many options to choose from, they often have difficulty choosing. Furthermore, this fear of commitment is also hampered by a fear that having made a choice, a better option might be around the corner. Guys marry women like they buy cars. Often men are concerned with looks but not really the substance. No wonder guys stagnate at the level of “blonde” jokes.