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The Startling Image of God

User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes

Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, is the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Readings
Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37 or 5:20-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37

Our Take
Today’s readings say astonishing things about mankind, but one concept explains them all. First, the astonishing statements.

Says the first reading: “Before man are life and death, good and evil; whichever he chooses shall be given him.”

Think about that for a second. What father would say to his children, “I hold out two choices for you: a healthy meal on one hand; poison on the other. Pick whichever you want.”

We would have a very hard time doing that. Our natural tendency would be to protect our children from the awesome power of a real, lasting choice like that. God doesn’t do that: He gives us real choice.

As the Catechism puts it: “Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom. … It causes exclusion from Christ’s Kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.”

So, why does God give us such freedom?

A second puzzling concept comes from the second reading. Says St. Paul: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart … this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

This seems to describe an impossibility. How can God reveal to us something that can’t be heard or seen or even sensed with the human heart?

The reality that explains both is simple: We are made in the image and likeness of God. For real. God is utterly free, and so are we. God can understand things that transcend human senses. St. Paul explains that, in Christ, God has revealed all things, even this.

That gives the last startling reading some context: today’s Gospel.

It’s startling because of the nearly impossible moral precepts it lists. But each precept makes sense if you consider that we are made in God’s image.

First comes: “You have heard that it was said … whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

Not only are we not to kill; we are not to call anyone else a fool, says Christ. We are supposed to reconcile before worshipping God.

This is a radical image of the primacy of community. We are made in the image of a God who is the holy Trinity. We are not autonomous beings who have to deal with other autonomous beings in order to better ourselves versus them. Rather, our relationship with others is central to our identity.

Second, says Christ, not only are we to stay free from adultery; we aren’t to look at another lustfully. Furthermore, it’s better that we lose a part of our body than sin with it.

If the previous precept points to the fact that we were made in the image of God the Three, this precept points to the fact that we are made in the image of God the One. We aren’t body, soul and spirit, each with a different identity. We are one. When I act, the entire me acts, not just a piece of me. When I turn my attention to someone else, I can’t separate their body from their personality. I am one; you are one.

In the last two precepts, Christ disallows divorce, and he insists that we not swear, but that we simply mean what we say.

This is another way we are in the image of God. Like God, when we make a commitment, that commitment is real. When God speaks, his word is powerful. When we speak, our word is powerful in a lesser but analogous way. And all our words count, not just those to which we attach special provisos.

So we can be a little in awe of the power we have been given as human beings. We are truly free. We have access to truths that can’t be sensed. We are made for community. We are truly one in ourselves, and our words count.

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,

where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.