Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on February 15 and 16 on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A at the 4:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM, and 10:30AM Masses
If you have read George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, you know that in the story he warns about the dangers of government and technology, or more accurately the dangers of government using technology. It is considered one of the most depressing novels ever written. I know firsthand because it was required reading in high school, way back in 1984. But even if you have not read the novel, you most certainly heard about Big Brother, the all-knowing government entity in the story who monitors the private lives of its citizens with constant audio and video surveillance. The idea of a Big Brother watching over us as described in the novel seemed far-fetched in 1984, but not today. Technology has improved to the point that much of our lives are indeed monitored and tracked by cellphones, computers, satellites, and video cameras. These things certainly make our lives easier, safer, and more productive, but all the information gathered can be used be used against us, just as it is used against the citizens in the novel 1984. It can make us feel concerned about our privacy.
George Orwell believed that when people lose their privacy by being monitored under constant surveillance by a Big Brother, they would be forced to live their lives differently. But as we see each and every day on the news, on the internet, on America’s Funniest Home Videos, and on your favorite reality TV program (in fact one of the reality shows is called Big Brother because of the novel 1984), despite the ever-increasing presence of technology watching and listening to us, people still commit crimes and do and say the same stupid things they have always done.
In reality each one of us lives our lives under greater surveillance, more scrutiny, and less privacy than having a Big Brother over us, an all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, who misses not a single instant of our lives, and yet we do and say some pretty dumb things, just like the people we see on TV. Sure we are good people at Mass, but about when we leave? We can sometimes live our lives like God is deaf, dumb, and blind, or as if he does not even exist at all. We commit sin after sin, often the same ones over and over. I can almost picture God sitting on a couch scrolling through the DVR of our lives saying, “How many times do I have to watch this? It’s the same thing over and over.”
But in today’s gospel, Jesus reveals to us that the commandments have not been given to us so that God may watch and judge our every move like a Big Brother, but are instead a gift to us so that we might become beloved sons and daughters of an all-loving and Almighty Father.
First, the commandments teach us how to live. They show us how to respect God and our neighbor, how to make proper moral decisions, and how to become Christian people of virtue. In fact, to emphasize how important it is for us to follow God’s commandments, in today’s gospel Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away.” When someone says that the entire Bible is meant to be taken literally, mention these verses to them, because if we take these words of Jesus literally, the entire world will be blind and without limbs in a very short period of time –liars would be without their tongues, drivers would be without their lead feet. It would get gruesome pretty quickly.
But Jesus is stressing the point today that the commandments are very important for us. We may feel that they put limits on us and take away our freedom, but God gave us the commandments so that we might live our lives to their fullness.
To live in fullness is to love. So next, the commandments teach us how to love. Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The commandments are not about following rules, they are above living lives of love. Jesus reveals to us that the law is fulfilled through love. It’s not a simply a matter of doing or saying the right things and it’s not about not doing and not saying the wrong things, it’s about having a conversion of heart. Jesus says in today’s gospel, “You shall not kill,” which I hope most of us will get through life without killing someone, but then He adds, “Whoever is angry with his brother is liable to judgment.” We may never actually kill someone, but how often do we kill people by our thoughts and our feelings by being angry and holding grudges? Jesus also talks about adultery. We may not physically commit adultery, but how often do we commit it in our minds and in our hearts? The commandments are not about how we appear on the outside, but who we actually are on the inside.
Fulfilling the law means that we do not treat the commandments as minimum standards to be met or list of dos and don’ts to check off a list, but that we use the commandments to lead us to an internal conversion and change of heart, so that we become people living lives of love, open to the needs of others.
Finally, when we live lives fulfilled by love, the commandments lead us to our ultimate reward, the kingdom of heaven. In today reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul can’t even describe it for us, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” The commandments are a covenant God has made with us, a promise of the kingdom of heaven.
Our Heavenly Father can see and hear everything that we do and say, but he also knows the intimate details of our thoughts and our hearts. It’s a scary and sobering thought isn’t it? But God does not watch over us so closely in order to use the information against us or to judge us, but because he loves us and wants the best for us, so that we can become all that we can be. God has given us the commandments that we might become “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Today’s message is that our Heavenly Father watches over us like a nurturing parent, with great love. God has given us the commandments to fulfill, just as our parents give us rules to follow, not so that we can be punished, but that we might learn how to live and to love, that we might have eternal life as beloved sons and daughters of God. The commandments are God’s gift to us. Rejoice and be glad that we have been found worthy to receive such a wonderful gift.