Sirach 15, 15-20 + Psalm 119 + 1 Corinthians 2, 6-10 + Matthew 5, 17-37
As always, I pay attention to verbs. There are two in this text that lead us deeply into what is revealed and to what is expected of us. This is still part of the great “Sermon on the Mount”. Jesus is speaking to all those who will be his followers, and the expectation is great. Persecution for the sake of Justice. Becoming salt, which as I said last week might mean making things go BOOM! Standing tall to reflect the Light of Christ, and now this reflection on how to stand in relationship to the Law.
Jesus could not make it clearer that the Law of Moses is not abolished. There is no excuse among followers of Jesus for not keeping the law. Once that is established, Matthew gives Jesus divine authority to fulfill the law. That verb: “fulfill” is a moment of transition and revelation not only about who Jesus is, but also about what is then expected of those who would claim this Jesus as their divine authority and Lord. There is a transformation of the law which until that moment has been a terrible burden on people’s lives. Jesus continues to talk saying “you have heard this, but I tell you that….” Followers of Jesus will do more than keep the old law. It is no longer enough just to keep the rules. Rule keepers are not followers of Jesus. It takes more than that.
All through the Gospels, the Pharisees stand before us the “rule keepers”. They do everything right. They know the law. They impose the law. They keep the law. They teach the law, but they do not know and embrace the divine one who fulfills the law. They are never transformed by the law. They justify themselves, and they claim their self-satisfaction because they have kept the rules. Jesus comes to say, that is not enough. It will not get you into the right relationship with God, because you have not been transformed by the law.
One transformed by the law knows the spirit of the law. They know that it is not just murder that is forbidden, but the anger that causes the murder. So, a person transformed by the law addresses the anger in their lives knowing that even though they have never killed anyone, the anger in their lives still keeps them from being truly “Blessed” to use the language of earlier verses in this sermon. No one is Blessed, no one is Happy who is angry. Fulfillment of the law means: no anger.
One transformed by the law knows the spirit of the law. They know that it is not just adultery that is forbidden, but the lust that causes adultery. So, a person transformed by the law addresses everything that lust leads them into: pornography, sexism, disrespect for the body, thoughts, actions, whatever ultimately leads to that infidelity is also forbidden for those who wish to be counted among the Blessed and the Happy. No one who sits in front of a computer screen watching pornography is Happy or Blessed, and they are not going to become Happy or Blessed sitting there. They will just be lonelier and more desperate than before.
The message here, and the consequence of understanding this message means that none of us can ever think for one minute that because we have not broken one of the Ten Commandments we’re OK. Not breaking one of the Commandments is no excuse for failing to confess, acknowledge, and repent of sinfulness.
Years ago when I was much younger and had not really listened to this gospel, I was starting to take the traditions of my faith more seriously, and because I had never stolen anything, murdered, committed adultery, or coveted anyone or anything, because I had made every effort to respect my parents even though we argued about going to Mass, I decided to go to confession. I’m not sure to this day why. I’m almost ashamed to admit that it might have been to impress the priest with a report on how good I was. When I said to him, “I haven’t broken any of the commandments.” He said: “So what? Is that all you have to say for yourself? You just told me what you have not done. Can you tell me what you have done.” I was stumped at the reversal, and even though the conversation ended up being very encouraging, I left there realizing that there must be more to this faith that keeping the rules. With that, transformation began and fulfillment.
Now as a confessor, I can’t tell you how troubling and sometimes disappointing it is to hear someone come for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and detect that their preparation has been focused on the Ten Commandments. There is more, way more to our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ than the Law of Moses. A far better preparation is a review of the Beatitudes. The question then is not whether or not you have stolen, committed adultery, or murdered anyone. The issue is: were you merciful? Were you just? Have you taken simplicity and poverty seriously, not only the poverty of others, but your own in terms of greed and hungering for more prestige and power rather than for the Kingdom of God? This is the life of people who have been transformed by the divine presence in Jesus Christ.
Jesus comes to fulfill the law so that it is no longer a set of rules or a list of “don’ts”, but a sign of our longing for and our movement toward fulfilling of the Will of God: and our sincere desire to live in a constant and intimate relationship with God. Whatever gets between us and God must go. Whatever gets between us, brothers and sisters, must go; because when we are at odds with each other, we are away from God. So today we celebrate the Law of God which for us is not a burden, but a gift, a guide, a map that once we are transformed by the grace of our faith turns the law from a burden that binds us to a gift that frees us. The law frees us to be all that we can be by God’s love, and all that doing the will of God allows us to become.