Reflection for Sunday – February 12, 2023

Readings: Sirach 15: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10; Matthew 5: 17-37 
Preacher: Deni Mack

Among the saints named Valentine, was a bishop martyred in the year 269 for breaking the law against marrying couples!  What?  Yes, Claudius II banned marriage, thinking that would provide him with soldiers.

Soon after Valentine was put to death, his jailer’s blind daughter, Julia received a flower in a letter from Valentine.  That was the first thing she ever saw.  The flower was accompanied by a note signed, “from your Valentine.”

Valentine broke a civil law that was wrong; God’s law is love. Centuries after Valentine, the Nuremberg trials reminded many of the evil of some official laws. Ken Burns’ The USA and the Holocaust documented Nazis coming to the United States to learn how to legalize discrimination; they studied the development and implementation of our ungodly civil Jim Crow laws to use against Jews.   

How can we insist that better laws for public safety are emphasized in training, protocols and procedures? How can we request restorative justice?

Last week, a local black church held a prayer service in memory of Tyre Nichols who was killed in Memphis.  The preaching, prayer and witnessing were powerful.  The pleas for respect for Black and Brown people and for an end to brutality and more were heartfelt. Elected community leaders, religious leaders and folks of all faiths and colors listened to testimonies from police and pastors that resonated with the Gospel: Jesus came to fulfill the law.  The host, Pastor Harvey is also a science teacher who admitted, “It is hard work when a kid mouth’s back. I do it for the children; I keep them close.  They need to see my black face, hear my voice.”

We heard the witness of Black mothers, fathers, young people, those with stories to tell of violence against their person, of the cautions they give their children to be respectful, of  fearing to go outside, of sadness there is no transportation to a market that sells fresh food, and outrage by the lack of health care and the pain of hearing repeated news of unarmed black people being killed by police.  One said, “this crime in Memphis is not different from what happened to George Floyd and Daniel Prude.  Violence is violence.  Violence is evil.” 

Black Fr. Patrick Saint Jean, SJ told us last year that he was stopped by police even though he drove safely.  His white friend was not stopped once when they drove from California to New Jersey in 2019.  When Fr. Patrick drove in Newark, New Jersey, he was pulled from the car, thrown against it and handcuffed for no other reason than driving while Black.

We weep at the assault on human dignity.  Scriptures tell us of the goodness of God’s law; they show us we need to root out the anger in our heart. Both Sirach and the Gospel today call us to keep the commandments.  In the keeping, we follow the greatest commandment—to love God and one another, unconditionally.  Loving Tyre and his mother, his four-year-old son and loving his grandparents come easily. We can’t help but feel for them; parents and grandparents grieve in solidarity.  How can we spread that loving solidarity to prevent the next killing? 

It is not easy to love the men who killed Tyre.  They were trained and took oaths.  Today’s Gospel has strong words about oaths.  “Make good to the Lord all that you vow.”  God help us love these men so sincerely that whatever influenced them to do harm is never repeated. 

Jesus advises, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean No.’” 

You will laugh and cry when you read Tattoos of the Heart, Barking to the Choir, and/or The Whole Language by Greg Boyle who has a way with killers.  In 1988, Fr. Boyle, SJ founded the largest gang intervention, rehab in the world. In 2018 alone, in addition to serving almost 7,000 gang members, another 400 women and men went through their 18-month employment and re-entry program.  Fr. Greg wrote, “a trainee said to me, ‘Never in my life have I felt surrounded by love—till now…till here.’ There is nothing more essential, vital and important than love and its carrier—tenderness—practiced in the present moment. By keeping it close, just right now, we are reminded to choose connection over alienation, kinship over self -absorption.” 

Jesus, St Valentine, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, Pastor Harvey and more model for us how to love.  God loves us into loving. Love conquers evil.

Denise Mack