Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2017
It’s possible that, in the near future, there will be a wall separating the U.S. and Mexico. The mere suggestion that a wall be constructed has already divided our nation. We all know the arguments…pro and con. The concern over national security has triggered the discussion. Most recently, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl Game dramatized the arguments in opposition. I don’t raise the issue to weigh in on either side. I mention it because I think it’s extremely ironic that, while the national debate rages as to whether or not “walls work,” or that bridges should be preferred to walls…our Gospel calls us to BUILD A WALL!
The Lord doesn’t use those exact words, but the people listening to Him knew that’s exactly what He was saying.
From earliest of times, Israel understood that, in order to protect their “spiritual security,” more than compliance with The Law was needed. As the generations passed, the expression build a fence around the Torah (the Law) was used to communicate an understanding that when our spiritual lives are at stake…or at risk…extreme measures are in order. Certainly, the Lord was not encouraging self-mutilation. Like the Super Bowl commercials, He was offering a dramatic explanation. His point being: we should take extreme measures to protect ourselves so that we do not wander outside of the protection of God’s Law. In other words, build a fence around the Torah and strengthen the border between good and evil…life and death!
Our First Reading offers another irony to ponder. Consider this: God’s greatest gift to us is our free will. The passage from the Book of Sirach emphasizes that our Creator is (to borrow a phrase) “pro-choice.” God is not an arrogant, iron-fisted dictator who imposes the Divine will. Rather, we are allowed to choose for ourselves how we are to live. We can choose the excitement of fire, which has the potential to harm or even destroy us. The other option is cleansing, nourishing, healing, and life-sustaining water. The choice is ours.
But, Sirach also makes it perfectly clear that “free choice” must not be confused with a license to sin. And so, in God’s infinite wisdom and kindness, God gave us The Commandments as a “boundary” or “border” that keeps us from wandering off into dangerous territory through poor choices and bad decisions. Wisely, the people wanted to reinforce the “boundary,” and so they added to The Commandments an extensive body of rules, regulations, and traditions in order to “build a fence around The Law!”
The hope is that a spiritual “firewall” will provide an even stronger barrier between the danger zone of sin and the safety and peace to be had through a life of virtue. Extreme danger calls for extreme measures. Jesus most definitely is NOT calling for self-mutilation in order to avoid sin. He is suggesting that we “reinforce our borders.”
There is another ironic situation to be found as our three Readings work together. St. Paul seems to be telling the Corinthian community that a wise person seeking to remain within the border surrounding the City of God should seek the protection of love! Love of God is a sufficient spiritual firewall, or barrier, to protect us from those things that threaten eternal life. Love of God is the perfect fence, or wall, to prevent us from wandering off into dangerous territory. Every choice that a wise person makes is motivated by love…of God…and of God’s Creation!
So, the final irony to ponder during this sixth week of Ordinary Time is that walls do work…at least spiritual walls…but not to keep people out; rather, to invite them in! When we isolate ourselves from things like fear, hatred, envy, prejudice, and selfishness by surrounding ourselves with LOVE…then our hearts and our doors are open to God and to all of God’s Creation.
It all boils down to this…and there is nothing ironic about it: If it’s safety you are looking for…it is wise to choose love!