But I Say to You

(Homily for Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

Bottom line: "But I say to you..." In this bold phrase, we see Jesus' remarkable authority, his exousia. He comes not only to give us essential teachings; he comes to give us Himself.

Last Sunday I talked about the difference between two Greek words that we translate as "good." To help explain today's Gospel, I am going refer to another Greek word. In doing this I feel a bit like the professor's chaufer. He had driven a professor around the country and each evening he had sat in the audience. One day the chaufer said, "Professor, I have listened to your lecture dozens of times. I could give it by heart." So that night the professor donned the chaufer's uniform and sat up front in the auditorium. The chaufer gave the lecture perfect, word for word.

When he finished, a man asked, "Professor, you said that H2O2 plus Na4K3 equals E over MC squared. How is that possible?"

The chaufer thought for a second, then replied, "That is stupid question. In fact, it is the stupidest question I have ever heard. And just to show how stupid it is, do you see that chaufer in the front row? I am going to let him answer it!"

Like I said, I will be referring to a Greek word, but don't ask me too many questions afterwards. I wish I would have studied Greek harder when I was in the seminary. Since the New Testament was written in that language, it is most helpful to know some Greek.

The Greek word I want to focus on is "exousia." It is one of those words that is hard to express in English. It is variously translated as "authority ," "power," "dominion," and "capacity." William Barclay defines exousia as "the power to add and the power to take away at will." At the end of the Sermon on the Mount St. Matthew says that Jesus taught with authority - exousia - not like the Scribes and Pharisees.

We see Jesus' authority, his exousia, in today's Gospel - which is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Four times Jesus quotes a passage from the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. After citing each of the Scripture verses, Jesus says, "But I say to you..." He is making an amazing claim of authority and power.

In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict comments on the phrase, "But I say to you..." To show how radical the claim is, the pope cites a Jewish Scripture scholar, Rabbi Jacob Neusner. Regarding Jesus' approach to the Law, Rabbi Neusner asks, "What did Jesus leave out?" He answers, "Nothing." Then he asks, "What did Jesus add?" To that the Rabbi answers, "Himself."*

Jesus did not come to give a new law. He came to give us Himself.

You can find the moral law in many sources: Plato, Moses, Buddha, Lao Tzu, as well as Egyptian, Norse, Hindu, Native American and other traditions.** They all teach to not lie, steal, kill (take innocent human life), commit adultery or dishoner one's parents. In that sense one can say that all religions are the same. We all know this law because God has written it on the human heart (Rom 2:15). Jesus applies the law by stressing the seriousness of holding on to anger and lust, of seeking divorce and of taking unnecessary oaths. In telling his followers to avoid vain desires and to concentrate on today and not fret about tomorrow, Jesus sounds very much like the Buddha.

Buddha tried to show people a path to peace. Jesus likewise shows a path, but much more important: He is the path. Jesus gives us Himself. It cannot be otherwise: Jesus, after all, is the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of the Father. As we say in the creed, he is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. As such he is the path, the way to the Father.

To say this about Jesus is no offense to Moses, Buddha, Lao or even Mohamed. None of those teachers claimed to be the way. They showed a way, but were not themselves the way. Like Jesus they gave many good teachings. But Jesus came to give more than doctrines. He came to give us Himself.***

We need Jesus to even begin to live his teachings - to find inner peace. Jesus wants to pick us up when we stumble, to strengthen us during trials and temptations, to be with us in times of joy and sorrow. That is his message this Sunday. I would like to conclude this homily with a three-sentence summary:


*Jesus of Nazareth, p. 105

**At the end of Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis lines up quotes from these sources to illustrate the universality of the moral law, what he calls the Tao.

***In discussing the temptations of Christ, Pope Benedict asks: "What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity and a better world? What has he brought?"
The pope responds: "The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God." (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 44)

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From Archives (Sixth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2017: Hidden Wisdom Week 3- About Adultery, Murder & Perjury
2014: Toward a Synthesis - Part 2
2011: But I Say to You
1999: Not Abolish, but Complete

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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