Thoughts on 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 16, 2020
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week I mentioned that one underlying purpose of Matthew’s Gospel is as a message to the Jews, particularly the ones who lived away from Palestine, who found themselves curious about if not attracted to this Jesus and the story of a new commandment of love. The possibility that the Messiah has come and that the Law is fulfilled is addressed through this Gospel to the Diaspora.
Today’s readings, Matthew and 1 Corinthians, drive home that relationship of the old and the new. The Gospel is Exhibit A. of trying to match up the Old Law with the New Law, even as the New surpasses the Old in its adherence and application. However, Paul’s message in his first letter to the Corinthians puts a whole ‘nother take on the matter. He speaks of the wisdom to be found among the spiritually mature. It is the origin of Paul’s view which would come into fullness with his Letter to the Romans, the view that Law is death and Faith is life.
Remember, 1st Corinthians was sent following Paul’s return to Antioch from his second missionary journey – the journey which took him for the first time to Greece. It was on this journey that he spent a year and a half with the folks at Corinth.
So, let’s take a look at that missionary jaunt. Having eventually arrived in Athens Paul realized that people were hungry for the message he was preaching, this message of love, the affirmation of the golden rule. On his way to Corinth Paul reflected that the Athens crowd who wanted to hear him included more than the Jewish population of the city. There were also Greeks, Romans, Syrians and other representatives of the nations who travelled through or had settled in the great trading center, the seedbed of democracy and philosophic thought.
Paul’s Athens experience, as well as the rest of that 2nd journey, was a revelation of the universal message that he preached. It was Paul’s own light-bulb moment that the truth of the message itself grew within him because of his exposure to the truths of others. As he made his way from Troy, Philippi, Thessalonika, Beroea and eventually to Athens he met up with the anger of Jewish leaders upset at this challenge to the status quo. Some of them followed Paul and his group from city to city only to create trouble for these preachers of the New Way. At the same time they met Gentiles and Greeks who were curious, interested, found a challenge in what they had to say and who looked for more.
This seems to be the moment when Paul accepted the revelation of the secret that stared him in the face, right in front of his nose, as it were. Actually there were two secrets which one could say lay behind his quote of the Prophet Isaiah in today’s 2nd reading, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love God.”
The first secret is that God was about fulfilling promises and not about simply trading one Big Act for another Big Act, whether it’s Creation for Eschaton or Sin/Rejection for Redemption.
Here’s what I mean. It seems to me that one caution to new cosmology – the vision of the universe as the ever expanding expression of emergent God – is that the Big Act of Creation which we marvel at may be seen simply to be replaced by the Big Act of Eschaton – the fulfillment of the Creator’s promise of total unity and universal peace. And as these things are done. we would be passive spectators. To turn this caution into a clear path we need eyes and ears to be responsible for this gift we have been given. We – you and I – are part of this picture.
Also, the secret alerts us to the awareness that Redemption is just not something about Jesus Christ becoming my personal Lord and Savior to make up for my sin and rejection of good. No, we – you and I – are each one called to love in very real, personal, and everyday ways. Love not only those who are gifts in our lives; also love this gift of creation. So, the first secret reminds us that we are integrally and completely called to be part of the Big Act, the fulfillment of God’s promises.
The second secret has to do with the deeper part of the first secret of personal action and responsibility. It shows us truly that the Old Law, the former commandments give way to the New Law. I believe this and because I do, in all transparency, I cut out 2 paragraphs from today’s Gospel that have to do with divorce and remarriage. I did it because the Old Law must give way to the awareness that personal responsibility does not become perfect by following laws. We become perfect by being co-creators of love with the Creator of all. If God’s promise is to be fulfilled it will become so because we accept our call to be Christ in this world, in this universe.
Let’s put it this way. We are subjects, not objects in this history of salvation, active agents and not passive appliers of the law.
The Song of Songs, of all biblical literature at our disposal, gets this point across not only determinedly but pretty lustily as well. Having survived possibly being thrown out of the Bible what we have in the Song two lovers fully engaged in a unity of bodies and spirits. The one who seeks says, “I have found the one whom my soul loves.” And, once found, as the Song continues, the seeking lover takes the found lover to the bedroom of the seeking lover’s parents. Wanna take a guess what happens next?
Julia Kristeva is a French-Bulgarian philosopher-psychoanalyst who writes deeply of persons who love physically, spiritually, excitedly, and yes depressedly as well. In her book, “Tales of Love,” she takes a look at the Song of Songs. She writes of incarnation as that shared reality between God and us, incarnation that expresses God present – one carnal lover with another as in the Song of Songs. Kristeva asks, “if I love God, if the loved one is, beyond Solomon’s body, God’s (very self).”
The second secret – that You and I are subjects – one-to-one with the divine subject takes us way beyond the Old Law. It is spiritual wisdom. It places us, like Paul’s Greek and Gentile converts, practitioners of the New Law with eyes that see and ears that hear counting on the Promises of the One whom Our heart seeks.
A Prayer (JR)
Our desire for you, O God, is a response to your desire for us. This wisdom that we desire is to know you and to see the radiance of your light and life in our hearts and lives.
In this way we reach beyond former commandments to put in place Jesus’ new commandment of love.
Deep in winter let our visions be of wildflowers on hillsides, birds singing in sunshine, and friends gathering in the warmth of love for each other and for you.