Remember, Jesus is on the mountain. He’s the new Moses leading God’s people to the land of liberty. The purpose of the law is to help these people to live in relations of a truly liberated community. Is Jesus changing the law? Is he thrusting into the trash all that Moses taught the people of Israel?
Lord, give me a pure heart and I’ll observe your law with sincerity
Sirach 15: 15–20 Psalms 119: 1–2, 4–5, 17–18, 33–34 I Corinthians 2: 6–10 Matthew 5:17–37
New law, rupture and continuity
He says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” So he doesn’t change the law. Yet, there’s something new for he says: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times….But I say to you….” There’s continuity though with some rupture. Come with me and we discover together how Jesus fulfils the law.
Firstly, we have the law that’s presented in form of “dos” and “don’ts”. It’s a list of prohibitions, mainly. Doesn’t that look like walking in a beautiful garden but with a lot of fences in barbed wire? It may not be that delighting to some people. Well, on one hand it’s helpful to know what one should and shouldn’t do. At the same time there’s a risk of seeing Christian life as though it’s all about a slavish observance of commandments. Consequently, who’s a good Christian? It’s a gentleman who commits no scandals. But Jesus challenges us to give a bit of depth to our christian life and not content ourselves simply with the good impression we can make.
Check what’s in the roots
Jesus is a good observer. Certainly he sees how people are so edgy about the law, preoccupied about whether or not they have broken it. But Jesus might have been surprised to see that despite this special attention given to the law the relations between persons leave much to be desired. So, what’s the use if the law does not help the people to live more humanly, sincerely and fraternally among them?
Possibly, people have been following the law blindly without appreciating its meaning. The commandments are not traffic speed control radar. God isn’t waiting for law breakers in order to punish them. Far from it! The law is there to support people to live in full liberty as human beings and as children of God. It’s to live fraternally in the respect for one another and for their property. To arrive at that we need to embrace as ours not only the observance of the law but also its meaning. Observing the law fully demands far much more than simply a courteous character. We need to get to the roots –the purity of heart. It’s not only what we see from outside that counts but also the spirit that reigns in the heart of the actor.
If you are not holier than the religious…
We are familiar with Jesus, he provokes quite a bit. In fact, what he says about the Pharisees might have sounded pretty scandalous to his hearers: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Poor Pharisees, what wrong have they done again to deserve a public criticism like that? By the way, who are Pharisees?
They are respected people, no doubt. Who can beat them in the knowledge of the law? To whom will the people go should they have some difficulty with traditions of the law? Are there better role models than Pharisees in observing the law? Doesn’t Jesus appreciate that?
It’s not that Jesus disproves their observance of the law, rather, he remarks that something fundamental is missing. The spirit behind the law is not there, that is, lacking foundation. They observe the law superficially. That is supposed to mean what?
They may not have committed adultery, yet, at heart they are no less adulterous than adulterers. They may not have divorced and yet the relationship with their wife may not be that sane. They may not have killed a person yet perhaps their judgmental attitude was just as murderous as murderers. It means they weren’t mature in living the law.
“But I have done nothing wrong!”
The law deals with dos and don’ts. The tendency for us also is to think that I’m ok as long as I do what the law enjoins me and I don’t do what it forbids. Perfect! Only that it sounds pretty childish.
Jesus challenges us to add a bit of depth to our life otherwise we settle for make-ups. We know, make-ups serve to give the intended impression. It’s a mask. And the danger is there for all of us to be caught in this compulsion to impress even though there may not be much inside us. Jesus in today’s gospel draws our attention to something important: what’s inside you? Take care of your conscience. Pay attention to what’s in your heart. There we may discover that there’s lot to be done –a lot of things to put in order.
Do you ever listen to yourself in order to discover your moral reasoning? Do you remember that day when you pleaded innocent, what did you say? I wasn’t there however if you are like me I can imagine you saying: “I haven’t done anything wrong!” Ok, you have done nothing wrong. Ok, you haven’t said anything bad. But does it mean your inside is as ok as the exterior? Well, what about that day when, raging with anger, you said to yourself: if I find that person will strangle him. That sounds a pretty disposition for murder.
“You heard what was said….now I tell you….”
Indeed, the law condemns killing but Jesus goes a step further to condemn whatever leads to murder; the law condemns adultery, Jesus warns us against whatever will lead to committing adultery; instead of making solemn oath Jesus invites us to pronounce words that are simple but sincere. In short, he reminds us, we have the interior that needs re-arrangement if we really want to find the joy of observing the law. It’s not about doing good isolated acts but being consistent in life with acts that flow from a person inwardly transformed. In that way, the law will no longer be something commanded from without -it will simply flow from us. It will become part of us. Then, we will understand the word of scripture: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Cor 3:17). That’s the kind of freedom Jesus is leading us to. That’s maturity in faith that comes not necessarily with age or our religious status but with a heart that welcomes the word of God.
Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart…
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
(Ps 119:1-2, 9-11).
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