Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Sirach places a choice before us today: life or death, good or evil, fire or water. The choice that Sirach is talking about is called the “fundamental option”. The idea of the fundamental option is that we ought to stop being lukewarm, wishy-washy, half-in/half-out and make a decision to follow God. Many people stand at this fork in the road and refuse to commit themselves to a path. Throughout the Old Testament, God is constantly telling his people to make a decision either for him or for the world, to continue to the Holy Land or to go back to Egypt, to worship him or to worship the pagan Gods. God insists that we make a decision.
Many people easily and proudly proclaim what football team or political party they support, but, in life, they are content to stand on the sidelines and watch. The world loves the open-minded, who see both sides, neither extremist nor fundamentalist. There is a war going on; pick a side. Will your fundamental option be for God or not? If we choose God, life will be hard. We will have to follow the commandments. People are afraid to choose because they think that they might choose wrongly. What if I choose for God and I am wrong? I will miss out on a lot of fun in life. What if I choose against God and I am wrong? I will miss out on something bigger. Every choice for something rejects other possibilities, but we will never get anywhere unless we pick a direction. So we stand on the threshold of life, paralyzed by fear.
Now, if this were a particular kind of protestant church, I would continue in this vein for an hour or so and then ask you to make a decision right now and to come up front and to pray a prayer of decision. I tell you, you would feel good if you did it, all warm inside, excited, probably crying. You would feel alive for the first time in a long time. And I am not going to stop anyone from doing that. Come on up after Mass, and look at Jesus, and make a decision. In fact, I am going to presume something right now. I am going to presume that since you got up this morning, got dressed, and came to worship God, you probably would make that commitment. In fact, let us all pause right now, and, without all the theatrics, turn to Jesus and say, “Lord Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God who died to save me from my sins. I choose to follow you wherever you lead me, forever. Amen.”
But now we have got a problem, because we have to actually do what we just said. No one runs a marathon by signing up for a gym membership. You have to actually exercise. No one loses a single pound because they made a New Year’s resolution. You have to actually eat better. No one ever got to heaven because they decided that they would follow God. You have to actually follow God. We made the decision. We took the fundamental option for Jesus Christ. The problem is, it is hard to be perfect.
If we thought that following Jesus just meant not killing anybody, he corrects that idea today: “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 his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” Has anyone here ever been angry with their brother or sister? Has anyone here ever called them a fool? Thus Jesus goes through each commandment and shows what it means to keep it perfectly.
There are some possibilities of course. We could just be hypocrites. We could follow the easy commandments in public and break the hard ones in private. We would be like actors on a stage: it does not matter what happens when the curtain goes down. This was the way of the scribes and Pharisees. But Jesus tells us, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
We could be antinomians, which is to say, we could not bother trying to be good since we will sin anyway. We could just say, “I have taken the fundamental option for Jesus, so it does not really matter what I do day to day. God will forgive me.” The antinomians are like the hypocrites except that they do not even try to hide their failings. This is not a surpassing righteousness.
We are going to have to use more difficult tactics if we will succeed on this path. We made the commitment today; we will have to make it again tomorrow. When we fail, we can repent. We will just have to keep trying to be perfect, no matter how many times we fall. We must never accept sin. We must refuse to put up with evil in our lives. We must never say about some sin we have struggled against, “Oh well, that is just the way I am.”
If this were all though, we would just be like Pharisees but humble. Not a bad place to start, but there is also good news. If we choose to follow God, he will guide us. His Spirit lives within each one of us by our Baptism and Confirmation. God wants us to be saved, but we have to decide that we want to be saved. We have to decide it at every hour; we have to decide it against every temptation; we have to decide it in every part of our lives. This is what it means to choose Christ, to take the fundamental option: following Jesus is the foundation of our lives. “If you choose, you can keep the commandments. They will save you. If you trust in God, you shall even live.”