In my local African community, it is not uncommon to call someone “ewu” (goat) when the individual does a wrong thing that contradicts a standing social expectation or norm. There are situations when people admit and call themselves “ewu” (goat) when they goof on a situation they should have done something differently. On the contrary, those who keep the law and maintain the societal norms are said to be as wise as “mbe” (tortoise). Laws are often challenging to keep but they serve to make us better in various ways.
The preceding prologue shows that obedience is a product of wisdom; put in another way, it takes wisdom to obey while disobedience is a fruit of foolishness. The difference between the wise and the foolish is their respective ways of evaluating their decisions and actions. The wise person is concerned about the long-term impact and gains while the foolish person is interested in the immediate gain no matter how short it lasts.
In the First Reading, today (Sirach 15:15-20), Jesus ben Sirach tells us to choose between keeping the commandment and obtaining salvation and breaking them to be damned. He explains further by saying that we are free to make a choice between fire and water, life, and death, good and evil. Immediately after this instruction, he tells us that immense is the wisdom of the Lord; hence it takes the wisdom of God to make any choice that will be eternally rewarding for us.
In the Second Reading (1 Cor.2:6-10) St. Paul advances the theme of wisdom by relating it to God’s wisdom which surpasses all other claims to wisdom. According to him this wisdom is hidden and preserved for our glory. It may seem that St. Paul was talking about something very strange. No! He was merely talking about obedience to God’s laws which will lead us to the eternal glory in heaven:
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.
Those who love God are those who keep his commandments (John 14:15).
If we go to the Book of Deuteronomy (4:1-9), we will see Moses commanding the people to obedience to the laws as a sure way of entering the promised land. Furthermore, he says “you must observe them diligently, for this will show your WISDOM and discernment to the peoples, who when they hear all these statutes will say, surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people” (4:6). It takes wisdom to listen and to obey!
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 5:17-37) our Lord Jesus Christ undertakes a systematic exposition on various societal issues using the law as a point of departure. In the discussion, he tells the people that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil them. According to him, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the law will pass away. Why and why not? The answer is simply that God’s law is a transcript of His character. Altering the law would mean altering this transcript. Furthermore, God’s law is our manual for life which we see in the scriptures. Following this guide is a wise decision that would ensure eternal life for us.
Our Lord goes beyond what the law states to educate the people on what the law means; if you like, he makes a distinction between theorising and practising the law. He presents four practical instances which show what people were told before and what he is telling us now.
The law on murder:
From the Book of Exodus, we know this as the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:13). God is the giver of life, and nobody is free to take what he or she did not give. According to the law, anyone who willingly kills pays with his (her) life. Our Lord goes beyond physical killing by pointing at the emotional and moral killings going on among the people even up to our time. From him, we learn that anger could be a lethal weapon. Anger goes with bitterness and hate. St. Paul advises us not to allow anger to lead us to sin as it gives the devil a room in our lives (Eph. 4:26-27). Our Lord tells us that it is a more practical observance of the law to let go anger and go for reconciliation. Often, we commit both murder and genocide with our heart though outwardly we may look calm and peaceful.
The law on adultery
We have this divine instruction in the Book of Exodus (20: 14) with a further reinforcement in Exodus 20:17. The people believed (as the law states) that the law punishes only when one physically takes another person’s wife. In our Lord’s instruction, the sin begins from the mind. The sin of adultery starts processing when the mind consents to it; every sin starts from the mind. Wisdom consists in eliminating the thoughts when they come.
The law on divorce
The writ of divorce was recommended by the Mosaic law on the grounds of adultery with the testimony of two males. In that male-dominated culture, most women suffered abuse on this ground, and there was no mention of a man being caught in adultery. In another discourse, our Lord revisited the issue by reminding the people that what God has joined together no person should put asunder. Hence, he maintained the virtue of unity and indissolubility of marriage (Mark 10:9).
The Law on oath-taking
The Israelites were required to fulfil their vows and oaths to God (Num.30:2; Deut.23:21-23). How often do you keep the promises you make to God? On this, our Lord instructs that we should only tell the truth: “yes or no” when it is appropriate.
It takes wisdom to be obedient to God. only wisdom can lead us to God Himself who is the source and summit of wisdom. As you march into the new week, may you be wise in our choices and choose life by obeying God and doing His will. It will be better to enjoy in the long run than to be damned after enjoying for a brief moment.
Have a wisdom-able and obedience-driven week ahead.