6th Sunday Ordinary Time - Year A http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021620.cfm
I remember when I was a kid and my older brother was annoying me and I got angry and I said to him ‘Raqa’ and my mother heard me say this so she sent me to see the Sanhedrin without dinner --- Ok, that one was a dud!
But seriously, I needed to find out what that word Raqa meant. The New American Bible, Revised Edition has this note on that word:
Raqa: an Aramaic word rēqā’ or rēqâ probably meaning “imbecile,” “blockhead,” a term of abuse.It also notes:
Anger is the motive behind murder, as the insulting epithets are steps that may lead to it. They, as well as the deed, are all forbidden.
There really isn’t an exact word translated to English for that word but we know it’s an insult. We know that it offends the law.
That’s what today’s readings are all about, the law and how Jesus would define the law a bit differently than the Jews, especially the Scribes and the Pharisees.
To the Jews, the word law would mean the Ten Commandments, or the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, also the Law and the Prophets meaning all of scripture and finally, it could mean the Scribal Law. The Scribal Law is a whole different ball of wax. The Scribes would take a commandment like “Keep holy the Sabbath” and add many rules and opinions on just what it means to “keep holy the Sabbath”. To them, it means no work, and then they would define hundreds of things that are considered work. An example is if you were trying to assist somebody with a wound it would be considered work if you used a salve in addition to a bandage to help them, so only a bandage could be applied to the wound unless they were in danger of bleeding to death. True first aid was only allowed if the person’s life was in danger. The Gospel of Luke tells about when Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath. She was crippled by a spirit and couldn’t stand erect. Jesus heals her and here is how the leaders respond:
But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day.” The Lord said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it out for watering?
The Scribes and the Pharisees lived for the Law and also made their interpretation of the law very difficult for the people to follow. Their goal was to satisfy every single letter, every iota of the law. They lived for the law. This is why Jesus took issue with them so much. Obeying the law was more important than loving and helping your fellow man, so much more important they could put you to death if you broke the law, even if it was for healing on the Sabbath!
Jesus has come to fulfill the law, he wasn’t here to abolish it. He was here to let the Scribes and the Pharisees know that they got their interpretation of the law wrong. He wanted to correct their erroneous ways and to fulfill the Law in its correct form, how God meant it to be fulfilled. The Ten Commandments aren’t laws God gave us because He wants to see us worry and suffer. God gave us laws because he loves us, yes even though we are sinners and we still break God’s laws, he still loves us.
Now Jesus seems to add a little bit to the laws here, but it’s ok, they are just necessary clarifications. You shall not kill means more than just murder. Jesus teaches us that talking poorly about somebody or gossiping kills their reputation and therefore breaks that commandment as well. Next, Jesus tells us, well, mostly the men, that we must keep our eyes in check, and I don’t mean by seeing the optometrist! Thou shall not commit adultery, and that involves what we look at and what we think, not just our actions! This was a big one because Jesus tells us it’s better to lose a part of our body like our eyes while living on earth than to suffer in the fires of Gehenna whole (also known as Hell).
This Gospel isn’t an invitation to go home and dismember yourself! Jesus really just wants you to cut away any sin that is so severe, so mortal that it destines our soul for Hell. How do you do that? We actually discussed this at That Man Is You last week. A great idea is not to think of another person in a material way but instead change that line of thinking into prayer. If that person has on a wedding ring, pray for their marriage, if not pray for their vocation to marriage or whatever else, simply praying for that person is enough.
I’ve been trying to modify my thoughts while driving lately. Instead of mumbling to myself that that person is an idiot or - Raqa! I try to pray for that person and any other person who might encounter this distracted driver on their commute today. It’s hard to stay angry while praying, at least for me.
We need to find ways to help us keep the commandments, as Sirach tells us:
If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live
That might be our biggest stumbling block in all this, the fact that it’s up to us and we can choose to keep the commandments or we can choose not to. We have the gift of freewill for without freewill we cannot love, love has to be given freely and we must choose correctly. Sirach also says:
Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.The Psalm today tells us:
Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.So wisely use your freedom to choose, and let your yes mean yes and your no mean no and keep the evil one out of your life!
St. John Paul II defined freedom well when he said:
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.