Time for me to make a little confession!
When I was a teenager, back in the 1950s, I dressed like a normal teenage boy of the time. And, I must confess, I had learned a trick that would allow me to use a pay phone in those days without having to pay for the phone call.
We lived in Detroit at the time and at the end of the street on which we lived there was a Dairy Queen and right next to that Dairy Queen was a phone booth. I would frequently walk down to that corner to make my calls.
One day I stepped into that phone booth, did my little trick and was dialing my number when suddenly the door to the phone booth burst open and an arm roughly pulled me out of the booth. I spun around and saw that the hand that had pulled me out of the booth belonged to a police officer. There was a second police officer standing off to the side with his hand resting on his gun holster. The police officer dragged me over to the squad car, had me stand facing the car, and then lean against the car with my feet apart. He patted me down from head to foot. He spun me around and opened the back door to the squad car and roughly pushed me inside. He said, “We’re taking you to jail”.
I was frightened. I thought, “Oh my gosh! I am going to jail, and I will now have a police record for stealing from the phone company.” It was then I learned that the doors on the inside of the back seat in a police car do not have any door handles on them. They can only be opened from the outside.
They put their car in gear and began to drive off. They only drove for about a half the length of a city street when they slammed on the brakes. The officer in the passenger seat turned around, looked at me and said, “What did you do with the gun?” That question made it clear to me that I was not being picked up for making free phone calls. I knew that on the previous evening, someone had shot and wounded a police officer in our neighborhood and I apparently must have matched the description of the shooter. I then relaxed, leaned back against the car seat and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
They asked me a few more questions. Then the officer in the passenger seat got out, opened my door and said, “Get out.” I got out of the car and they drove away. I was then surprised to see that I was surrounded by a small crowd of people, all wanting to know what that was all about. That was embarrassing.
That experience taught me a valuable lesson. And our readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sir 15:15-20; Ps 119; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37) speak of that same lesson. There is a price that must be paid for our wrongdoings.
God, in His infinite wisdom, has given us guidelines by which we are to live. Yes, these laws and guidelines are outlined for us in Sacred Scripture, but even people who have never been exposed to the Word of God know the difference between what is right and what is wrong.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said it best.
“Each man is at every moment subjected to several different sets of law, but there is only one of these which he is free to disobey. As a body, he is subjected to gravitation and cannot disobey it; if you leave him unsupported in mid-air, he has no more choice about falling than a stone has. As an organism, he is subjected to various biological laws which he cannot disobey any more than an animal can. That is, he cannot disobey those laws which he shares with other things; but the law which is peculiar to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or vegetables or inorganic things, is the one he can disobey if he chooses. This law was called the Law of Nature. — The Law of Nature, the human idea of decent behavior, is obvious to everyone.”
The Eighth Commandment says, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”. But even the Law of Nature, or decent human behavior, tells me that stealing from the phone company is obviously wrong. And eventually a price must be paid for that sin.
Jesus summarized the inevitable consequences of our behavior for us when He said, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5: 19)
The Gospel passage for this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 5:17-37) is rather long. But if you look closely at what Jesus says, His instructions are obvious to everyone, for He outlines for us what would be considered decent human behavior. Our love for God is to manifest itself in the love and respect that we have for one another. We are to demonstrate this fact by being honest and trustworthy; and by speaking the truth simply and honestly, in a straightforward manner, thereby demonstrating the sincere love and respect that we have for our fellow man. The very last sentence in this Gospel summarizes the whole teaching very concisely. “Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)