Homily for February 16, 2014: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Fr. Scott Bullock

February 16, 2014
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Sir 15:15-20

Responsorial Psalm  Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34

R. (1b) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

Reading 2  1 Cor 2:6-10

Gospel  Mt 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37


On May 15, 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a routine baseball game against the Boston Beaneaters. But what happened that day was anything but routine. In the third inning, with Boston up 5-3 The Orioles' famous coach John McGraw got into a fistfight with the Boston Beaneaters third baseman, Tommy “Foghorn” Tucker.   Tucker was famous for getting on base by getting hit with a pitch at the plate, a practice that enraged coaches, none more than the fiery Coach McGraw. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. A fire set in the stands eventually engulfed much of the ballpark. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well, leaving 1700 persons homeless.

Both McGraw and Tucker could have chosen to renounce this fight, turn the other cheek, walk away, but they did not. The result:  destruction.   For this is what anger does—it destroys. While the destruction wrecked by the anger of these two men and the anger which spread from them is clear, what about seemingly smaller acts of anger that we might perpetrate?  Anger at another driver, anger at a child or a spouse, anger at a political opponent? While we cannot see it, Jesus teaches that anger is always and at all times deadly.  It crushes the soul of another and ours at the same time. Jesus says:  if you want to live, it must be renounced.   The question is whether we believe in our own limited vision (it was only some harmless anger), or whether we trust in Jesus’ wider vision (“it is deadly.”)

In today’s gospel, Jesus the lawgiver is showing us how to live, a teaching that will continue next week.  In it, he teaches about the deadly effects of anger.  ““You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.  But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment;  and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” The point:  anger is a matter of life of death—it kills others, it kills our souls and sets us on the course, Jesus teaches, to an anger so ingrained that it could become our eternal state. This is not my teaching—it is Jesus’—that if we persist in anger, we “will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”  Is the anger really worth that?

But anger holds us so tight—and we feel justified in our anger—how can we find our way out?  The scriptures say today—we’ll have to make a choice. From the book of Sirach, we hear, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live . . . Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” The point:  our choices, and our choices alone, will determine our lives, and those around us.  This is how we were created.  However, they can be choices that give us life, or choices that give us death. Our faith teaches us that because we alone can make the choices that ultimately determine our lives, we will want to make the choices that tend to life.  But . . . how can we find our way out of anger produced from hurts of the past and even the present, when memories and situations enflame the anger ever anew?

The remedies are three:  First:  choose forgiveness.  This is the act by which I renounce that I believe my anger righteous, even while it continues to consume me.  This does not mean I will continue to accept mistreatment by others, but rather that I refuse to accept strangling my whole life by anger.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you into life by forgiveness. Second, renounce anger at every step.  Jesus has taught us anger is deadly, and has taught us not to choose this deadly thing.  Renouncing anger is about choosing life. Third:  when we have chosen anger, that deadly thing, we must remember that God’s mercy can heal us.  If we want to be freed from anger, even long term anger, we need God’s mercy to heal us.   For me, the most concrete way I can do this as a Catholic is through the Sacrament of Penance and the confessions of my sins of anger.  Until I confess them, speak them out loud, they really aren’t that serious, they really don’t seem deadly.

Meanwhile, here we are today.  For now, if anger is too present, too deadly in your life, stop for a moment, consider the anger, make an act of sorrow for how you have chosen this deadly thing, and come to the Eucharist, God’s healing mercy, praying for the strength and grace of deliverance.

The author Frederick Buechner said of anger, Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. 

Jesus is showing us that the royal way to life is through forgiveness, renouncing the deadly thing called anger, and coming to the healing that is his mercy.  Until we do, it is a tasty feast that makes us nothing less than a skeleton feasting on our very life.