(This is my homily for Sunday, February 12, 2017. I’m grateful to Providence Partners and the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, from whom I got the “break-out album” idea. The readings are Sirach 15:15-20, Psalm 119, 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, and Matthew 5:17-37.)
Who remembers the record “Chicago”, the one with the polished steel image on the album cover, from 1971? It had “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World” and some other big hits on it. It wasn’t the band’s first record, but it put them on the map nationally and launched a really long career. Who bought a copy of “Adele 21”, the album that got that singer noticed? This is 7:30 mass, so there should be a lot of people who remember the album, “Meet the Beatles”: it starts out with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and you know the rest of that story.
They call these records “break-out albums”; they sound new and fresh; they make a statement about who the artist is; and they get that artist noticed by a large and growing audience.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ “break-out album.” This is where he gets his message out for the first time. It’s a message that’s new and fresh and challenging.
This Sunday, and the last two Sundays, our gospel readings have come from the Sermon on the Mount, and we will continue to read through the sermon for the rest of February, hearing more about the reign of God and our own path to the Kingdom. The first track on the album was the Beatitudes, and that is a really strong start; that gets everybody’s attention and gets us thinking, hey, this is different; this is challenging; this could be something big. Then last week we heard the second track, where Jesus calls us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
Then we come to today’s powerful and demanding reading: If we want to belong to the Kingdom, we have to get this law not merely through our heads but into our hearts. I think the last word of the psalm is the most important; it’s heart. We can get the law through our thick skulls, but that isn’t what Jesus tells us to do. He wants us to get it into our hearts. He’s teaching that it’s not just about satisfying the law; the demands of the Kingdom of God center on our relationships with one another.
Jesus warns us about sliding into the complacency of the scribes and Pharisees. They all thought they followed the law. Like them, we might think, “I didn’t kill anybody this week, so I must be all good on the Fifth Commandment.” But Jesus says, “you’re not done yet.” Did I wish evil on someone, in anger? Did I kill someone’s spirit, by calling him a fool? That Aramaic word “Raqa” doesn’t easily translate for us. Maybe a good equivalent for it in our time is “Loser”. When we put someone down, because they’re “losers”, then we’re not all good with the Fifth Commandment.
On to the Sixth Commandment, if you didn’t have any extramarital affairs, Jesus says, that’s nice, but that’s not all there is to it. Did you put your energy into your relationship, or into your job, or into a dream of what might have been? The relationship is what matters.
Jesus also wants us to look at the Eighth Commandment in a new way. I love this line, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” We’re called to recognize the truth and honor it as the truth. In a world of “truthiness” and “alternative facts,” we have a responsibility to be honest with each other, and that sets us apart from the culture around us.
His point is that all through the Commandments, the real call is to love one another, and to live this out in all the relationships of our lives, with our families, our friends, co-workers, neighbors, with everyone with whom we share this world. Where it all leads is that we are the body of Christ on earth, with the law of love written on our hearts, not just our heads, making us a people for others.
Next weekend, there will be another track from the sermon on the mount, and it will be Commitment Sunday for the Annual Catholic Appeal. This year’s theme is: “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” What the Appeal does is give us an opportunity to make our love of our neighbor real and practical, through supporting the efforts of the Church in Chicago.
One of the many good and truly important things that the Appeal supports is Catholic education. To anticipate next week’s Commitment Sunday, I’m happy that we have with us a student at our own St. Luke School, who will share some thoughts at the end of mass about how Catholic education has touched his/her life.
This coming week, we can reflect our willingness to live out the demands of the Kingdom of God, which center on loving one another. We can begin to think about the practical ways to make that love real. We can plan in a deliberate and intentional way how we will support the Annual Catholic Appeal. God’s Word summons us, and the Eucharist we are about to celebrate shapes, nourishes and sustains us. Our weekly celebration together forms and prepares us to participate in the Kingdom of God. We pray together, “Thy Kingdom come,” and we experience together the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus, giving us his body and blood, which inspires and enables our love for each other.
We’re now three tracks into Jesus’s break-out album, The Sermon on the Mount, and there is more coming up. Jesus is going to tell us to use the “narrow gate, not to take the easy way. Go the route that requires leaving your own ego out of it.
Pop stars are going to come and go: Most of them will have their moment of fame and then go out of style some day; none of them will last forever. This teaching of Jesus might never be in style, but it’s never going to go away, and it is going to last forever, because it’s the truth.