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Sunday Mass Study Notes for 02-12-2023

Sunday Mass Study Notes for 02-12-2023 1200 700 Jim Hill

Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we examine the deep truths found in 1 Corinthians and more truths about the kingdom of God and its characteristics as found in Matthew’s Gospel in the section known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Introduction to the First Reading:

The first reading is from the Apocryphal book of Sirach, chapter 15. This section deals with the topic of sin.

First Reading:

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.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed.
No one does he command to act unjustly,
to none does he give license to sin. Sir 15:15;

The reading reminds us of the power and effects of the choices we make. A friend of mine refers to this as a like a fabric of cloth where our decision and those decisions made by others affect everyone, not just ourselves. Chief among the choices we make is the one to follow the ways of God, which during the times of the Old Testament was the Jewish Law. In the light of the New Testament, we see how obedience to the led the way to the revelation of Jesus Christ. Obeying the Law pointed the one and only way to God, through His Savior.

Introduction to the Second Reading:

In the second reading, St. Paul is contrasting the wisdom of this world with God’s wisdom. The Greeks were concerned with human philosophies and persuasive words. The wisdom of God that Paul is referring to is His plan to bring fallen human beings back into right relationship with Himself through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

Second Reading:

6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:6-10)

Here are some of the points that Paul uses to help us see the superiority of God’s way that lies in sharp contrast to the world’s way of doing things. God’s wisdom:

  • Is a mystery. No human philosophy or religious system has the deity paying for the debt of the offending party.
  • Was hidden for many years. While it was hinted at in the Old Testament, it was finally revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ—specifically His redemptive role in taking our penalty for sin when He died on the cross, then living His life through our surrendered lives with His resurrection power (Eph. 1:18-23).
  • Was predestined—God the Father sovereignly orchestrated the events that would reveal His wise plan of sending His Son to live and die in our place. Jesus’ death was ordained by God the Father for our benefit (“our glory”). We will eventually share in God’s glory because of Christ’s willingness to pay our penalty.
  • Is different than the world’s ways. Those in power (rulers of this age) do not operate according to God’s wisdom, which is based on love, sacrifice, relationship and trust. Instead, they operate according to the enemy’s philosophy—which is based on deception, brute force and coercion. If the rulers had understood God’s way, they would not have crucified Jesus.
  • Goes beyond what any human could have devised or dreamed of. We have just touched the tip of the iceberg of all that a relationship with God entails. There’s so much more to His love and provision than we are able to experience in this life.
  • Is revealed through His Spirit. The Spirit opens our hearts to the depths of God, helping us to understand the goodness of God’s ways.

As we think about God’s wisdom, we may wonder what difference this makes in our daily lives. If God was wise enough to devise a plan for redemption through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we can trust Him to be wise enough to work all things in our lives together for good in the lives of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). When we don’t understand God’s ways, we can rest in the fact that He is wise, he knows what He is doing and He will accomplish something good. As one preacher said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” So the fact that God could bring something good (our redemption) out of the death of His Son, gives us faith to walk in trust and on-going surrender to His ways.

The counterintuitive nature of God’s wisdom shows up in the Gospel passage as Jesus is teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’ premise is that those who are his disciples will be characterized by a different value system than those who live apart from God. Because Christians are now aware that we live in a God-saturated world, our lives will reflect heaven’s realities. We must be careful not to reduce this perspective to a list of rules to follow. Instead, we need to see this as a new way of life that is characterized by these things that are impossible to do outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Before we return to our study from last week of the Sermon on the Mount, I would like to share a story about how circumstances can drive critical choices in the life of the believer who has been given a new heart from God (Romans 18:8-9). I was employed by (and am) one of the owners of a computer software and consulting company. One of my coworkers was responsible for sales and during the course of his employment we had made a friendly relationship with each other. One afternoon a day or two after he had returned from a tiring business trip, I called him at his home office to discuss how we were going to follow up with the clients with whom we had met. During this call, he seemed tired and even paused a few times between his words. I thought that this was unusual but brushed it off by thinking he was probably still tired from the trip.  Two days later I received an urgent call from his girlfriend that he had had a heart attack and was in the hospital in a coma.  Because he was in the intensive care unit, I wasn’t allowed to visit him right away. After a few days, I made the three- and half-hour journey to the hospital and was able to visit him and his family and say my goodbyes. He never regained consciousness and passed away the following morning.  After our CFO found out about his passing, we discussed the insurance provisions that he had in place as well as the fact that he was due some, a substantial sales commission check as well as reimbursement for his expenses of the previous trip.  Although nobody would ever know if she didn’t send it, she insisted upon sending his sales commission check to his estate. She said that it was from her Christian perspective the right thing to do.  Although this man had considerable investments, and the checks our company sent were small in comparison, our company officer was compelled by her sense of responsibility in the Kingdom of God to settle the amounts.  As the years have passed, I have wondered how many employers would have taken advantage of this situation and simply “forgot” to send the funds that were due.  Such is the nature of the “other worldly,” supernatural motivation that God provides to His obedient believers.

Introduction to the Gospel Reading:

Now we will move onto the Gospel lesson from Saint Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is helpful to keep in mind that Matthew was what I would call “the most Jewish” of the writer of the Gospels. Matthew wrote with a uniquely Jewish perspective with his overall purpose being to show that Jesus was Israel’s promised Messiah. Matthew assumed that his audience was well grounded in the Jewish culture and belief system. The Jews were well grounded in the belief that the Kingdom of Heaven was to be “otherworldly” and supernatural.  Now let’s read the text while we imagine a yarmulke on our heads.

Gospel Reading:

17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:17-37)

As you can see, this new way of life is “otherworldly” and “supernatural.” This is not how the world operates, so it must come from above (John 3:3). As we encounter God’s grace as shown in Christ’s sacrifice, we are transformed into people who love Him and obey from the heart. Kingdom living is predicated upon surrendering the old way of life to Jesus in order to be tutored in a new way of life that is God-infused. This passage highlights what life in Jesus’ Kingdom (when Jesus rules in our hearts) should look like.

  • Honoring God by honoring the whole counsel of Scripture. His law will be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and we will obey because God has given us a new heart (2 Cor. 5:17). As we have seen in past readings, the scribes and Pharisees tried to have an appearance of righteousness (outwardly), but were not fully surrendered to God. Their motives were still selfish and evil.
  • Instead of the grace and love of God giving us a license to sin, it motivates us to follow His commands and teach others God’s ways.
  • Life in the Kingdom is characterized by:
    • Love, not disgust and disregard for human life (verses 21-22)
    • Being enthusiastic and proactive about peace-making (verses 23-26)
    • Treating the opposite sex as a treasure, not an object to be used for our selfish pleasure and thrown away when no longer useful (verses 27-32)
    • Having integrity and following through with one’s commitments, even if it means personal sacrifice. Instead of looking for loopholes, we look for how to honor our word (verses 33-37).

Life in the Kingdom of God, where Jesus rules and reigns in our hearts is very different from the dog-eat-dog world in which we live. God is going to have to restructure our interpretive framework for life in order to transform us from low levels of living to His higher levels of living. This is not something that we can manufacture, but it is a noble calling to which each person has to decide to respond. Instead, Life in the Kingdom is characterized by:

  • Love, not disgust and disregard for human life (verses 21-22)
  • Being enthusiastic and proactive about peace-making (verses 23-26)
  • Treating the opposite sex as a treasure, not an object to be used for our selfish pleasure and thrown away when no longer useful (verses 27-32)
  • Having integrity and following through with one’s commitments, even if it means personal sacrifice. Instead of looking for loopholes, we look for how to honor our word (verses 33-37).

May the peace of God that comes only from God guard our hearts this week.

Reflection Questions

1.  Spend some time taking an inventory of your life by reflecting on the contrast between the world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom (as seen in the New Testament reading and the Gospel reading). Which way of thinking most characterizes your life? Which way of thinking would you like to most characterize your life?

2. The above list of Kingdom values characterizes people who are living a God-saturated life. How do you see these traits being lived out in your life? What traits would you like to see be developed as you continue to grow in your relationship with God?

Copyright Statement and Source for Apocryphal Readings:

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Source: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings

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