Sunday Scripture for February 12, 2023, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sir 15:15-20 Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Cor 2:6-10 Mt 5:17-37 (Alternate) Mt 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37
As Lent approaches, take stock of how to live a better life
Lent is around the corner. As the church embarks on the graced journey of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the lenten season is a spiritually intense time for those preparing to enter the community of the Catholic Church. It may surprise us to learn that the path to the sacraments of initiation, namely Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, is an ancient one. In fact, the catechumenate, restored in the 1970s following the Second Vatican Council, comes to us from the Church’s life in the first five centuries.
In those early days of Christianity those who expressed interest in becoming disciples of Jesus were first invited to renounce their current way of life. From early documents, such as the “Didache” we learn that adults seeking to become Christian were first asked to turn from participation in pagan rituals, gladiator games and other forms of pagan entertainment. The core idea was that even before one learned the beliefs and prayers of the Christian faith, one had to commit to a radical new way of life in Jesus Christ. So, inquirers were presented with two paths: the way of life in God or the way of death apart from God. The way of life was rooted in love of God and love of neighbor, conveyed in the Beatitudes and Commandments. The opposite was the way of self-seeking vices, selfishness and rejection of the paths to happiness revealed by God.
In the first reading, the author of Sirach offers the same choice in these words, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”
The psalmist turns this divine invitation into a hymn of prayer: “Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.”
In the Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples that “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In his person and mission Jesus fulfills the law that God revealed to Israel. Then Jesus invites his disciples to go beyond mere observance of commandments out of a sense of obligation or cultural pressure to a life of freedom and joy chosen freely and rooted in God’s love. So Jesus says, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Lent is an opportunity to take stock of how to better live a life centered on God’s ways and commands. The Beatitudes and the Commandments connect to our deepest human desires for happiness, peace and love. As we return to the Lord this lent may we begin on the path of inner renewal with prayerful confidence saying, “speak to me, Lord.”
How does Jesus’ invitation to his disciples to live a righteous life challenge you today?
Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.