Sunday, February 16, 2014


Sirach 15:15-20          1 Corinthians 2:6-10        Matthew 5:17-37

 **“Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.”
Ben Sira, the author of the Book of Sirach,
is apparently telling us that we have a choice – life or death.
Somerset Maugham, had the following to say about life:
“It’s a funny thing about life;
if you refuse to accept anything but the best,
you very often get it.”
And that same author said the following about death:
Death is a very dull, dreary affair,
and my advice to you is to have nothing to do with it.”
So it would seem that we should choose life.  Well Duh!

I read about a cartoon that showed a deacon
sitting in a chair in a doctor’s treatment room
with his head back and his mouth open wide.
The doctor was peering in his mouth
and using his tongue depressor to get a better view.
And the Doctor said, “Now I see the problem.
You have a three part homily stuck in your larynx.”
That diagnosis is correct.
I have this three part homily that needs to get out –
Three parts to delve into answers to three questions:
Part 1. What is the “life” of which Ben Sira speaks?
And what of this “death.” which we have the power to choose?

Part 2. What does the New Testament add to the meanings.

And 3. How do these readings play out for each of us?


What about this “life and death” of the book of Sirach?
This is not temporal life – life from conception to our death.
It is not lifespan.
This death is not what happens as you take your last breath.
In Deuteronomy (30:20) Moses told the Israelites
who were wandering toward the Promised Land  that
“loving the Lord your God, obeying the Lord,
holding fast to the Lord; that means life to you.”
That is what “being alive” should have meant to the Isrealites.
And death, then, is idolatry in it various forms,
not just worshipping a golden calf as the Israelites did,
but also the more contemporary idols: possessions,
popularity, pleasure and power.
When we set up something to replace God, we die to Him.
We are either alive with Him or dead to Him;
We make the choice.

That is why the more spiritual of the Israelite people preferred
living in God’s presence in God’s temple,
where one day before God’s face
consecrated to God’s praise,
is worth more than a thousand days elsewhere. (Psalm 84)
To be truly alive was to turn to God;
Listen to the prophet Amos:
“Thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: Seek me and live.”
In the Old Testament, to be alive was to be searching for God;
To be dead was to ignore God.


We are to choose life, so says Ben Sira.
Now move centuries ahead to Paul writing to the Corinthians:
He wrote: “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age…
Rather we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden…”
The rulers did not understand that wisdom mentioned by Paul,
the wisdom of God’s plan for salvation;
for if they had, they would have not crucified Jesus;
they would have tried to frustrate
the wisdom behind God’s plan and let Jesus live.
In Paul’s inspired vision,
the wisdom of God’s plan for our salvation, for our life,
was through death, the death of Jesus on the cross,
the ultimate act of God’s love for us.
So, what was once life as seeking God in the Old Testament
has become more loving God because He has  loved us,
and turning away from God has become not loving God.
We can’t know God and have true life without loving God.
Again, we choose life.

We choose to love God and we do that
by loving those made in His own image and likeness.
Our loving others, and thus loving God, will require our death,
our death to ourselves.
If I love God, I love Christ,
and I can say as Paul did to the Philippians,
“For me, living is Christ.” (Phil 1:21)
I like that; to be really living, we must be living Christ.
Our living Christ will require our dying to our selves.


How do we bring this down to the nuts and bolts of everyday life?
Some precepts of the Law of the Old Testament
were listed by Jesus in the Gospel.
With each statement of a part of the law,
Jesus challenged his followers, and us,
to go beyond meeting the letter of the law,
to find extended ways to treat persons with love.
That’s the difference between just living and living Christ.

The law says that we shall not kill.
Well, I haven’t killed anybody.
I’m clean on that one. But, I have been very angry with some people.
In fact, I may have thought
that a person made me so angry that I would have liked                           to “wring his neck.”
While this expression is usually not to be taken literally,
it does indicate a relatively high level of anger.
But I haven’t killed anyone. So, can I say that I am living Christ?
If I am living Christ, living out Christ in my life,
I must go further, to act out of love, to make my amends
with the person who was the object of my anger.
I will have to put aside my pride, die a bit to myself
and then  be more in line with living Christ.

I’ve not committed adultery, so I am following that commandment.
I’m in good shape, no problem, living Christ,
doing what the law says. Right? Yes, but....
Jesus says that we must act out of love for God and our own bodies
to root out other acts of impurity, such as lust, from our lives.
Then I am further along in my quest to live Christ.

I hope that is sufficient for you to see
that the message of Jesus through St. Paul and St. Matthew
is that just following the Law is not living Christ.
Going beyond the Law to act out of love for others is living Christ.
What are examples of other acts of love that we can do each day
that go beyond the strict letter of the Ten Commandments?

We are not to take the name of the Lord in vain,
yet we may cuss using other words,
some that may be very close
to taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Stopping all cussing out of love for those who have to hear us
would help us to live Christ.

We get to Mass every Sunday;
                             this is how we keep holy the Sabbath.

What about not working or shopping on Sunday and
spending more time with family and friends.
We then would be loving others and living Christ more fully.

I can remember as I learned the Ten Commandments,
I was told that honoring your father and mother
also included honoring and obeying those others
who are in authority, like teachers, commanders,
bishops, priests, etc. out of love for them.

On occasion we may not lie but just tell some half truths –
not the whole story just enough of the truth
to answer as we wish.
If we truly love others, we will die to our own wish to be secretive
and be honest with them.
And that would be living Christ.

There are many ways to injure others without even touching them.
We can’t be gossiping about someone,
 and living Christ at the same time.

At baptism we received the life of Christ.
The question is, “Are we living it?”
Have we chosen Life:
The life of seeking God,
The life of our love for God,
The life of God’s love for us,
The life that takes every opportunity to love our neighbors?

Don’t be on the edge of living.
Surrender any false idols that hold you captive.
For your joy, chose life in Christ, life with Christ, life for Christ.
Live Christ.

**Based on “Before You Are Life and Death” a homily by Walter J. Burghardt S.J. In Speak the Word with Boldness, Paulist Press, Mahwa, NJ 1994 pp 65-70