16 June, 2017. Friday, Week 10

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

We have the treasure of grace, in the clay jars of our humanity

My brothers and sisters, we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – “I believed, and so I spoke” – we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Gospel: Matthew 5:27-32

Perfect fidelity includes right mental attitudes and motives

Jesus said to his disciples,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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 for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 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 for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


Treasure in earthen vessels

Quotable quotes abound in today’s readings, “treasure in earthen vessels”; “whoever looks lustfully at another”; “the small, still voice,” phrases coined by Paul, Jesus and Elijah respectively. Such proverbial phrases possess a universal relevance that speaks a message for everyone. Yet, for the general statement to become a personal word of God, it has to be reflected on and applied to oneself. “The sayings of the wise are like goads” says Qoheleth (Eccles 12:11)–goads to drive us on to clearer thinking and self-understanding, but also spikes on which to hang our own ideas.

In Paul’s memorable quote, we are only “clay jars,” not immune to suffering or temptation. He adds his eloquent statement about living in hope, through whatever happens: “afflicted in every way but not crushed; full of doubts, but not despairing; persecuted, but not destroyed.” Then his concluding words make good sense to both mystic and Christian activist: “we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus also may be revealed.”

Jesus’ proverbial words articulate genuine ideals which may not be fully realizable, or sometimes even wrong to literally implement. It would be wrong to gouge out one’s right eye or to hack off one’s right hand, just because they have led us into trouble or temptation. There is a shock treatment in his mode of address, like his other words about “hating” father and mother in order to love God (Matthew 10:37). What Jesus says about adultery, whether in the heart only, by lusting after another person or in action, by breaking up a happy marriage, must be taken seriously, as an ideal. He sets up ideals for us, and although we are tempted, undergo doubts and confusion, and at times falter and sin and need forgiveness, they remain a precious guideline for us, for as long as we live in our “earthen vessels.”

Taken seriously, but not literally

The language Jesus uses in today’s Gospel sounds strange to our ears, “If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away;” He speaks in an exaggerated way to get our attention; he clearly does not intend to be taken literally. This image of tearing out our right eye links back to his view of adultery not just as a physical act but as an intention or a desire, “whoever looks at a woman lustfully.” Jesus goes behind the actions that the Ten Commandments prohibit to the roots of those actions in the human heart. This is the deeper virtue that he referred to a few verses earlier. Jesus calls for not just a change of behaviour but a change of heart, a purifying of desire and intention. This interior transformation is understood elsewhere in the Scriptures to be the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who renews the human heart. It is above all in prayer that we open ourselves to the Spirit of God. As Elijah in the first reading sought out the mountain of God, we need to seek out the mountain of prayer. On the mountain, Elijah experienced the presence of the Lord in “the sound of a gentle breeze,” as another translation expresses it “in the sound of sheer silence.” It is above all in silence that we seek the Lord’s face, in the words of today’s responsorial psalm, and open ourselves to the coming of the Lord’s Spirit, who works within us to create in us a heart that reflects the heart of Jesus.

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