Leviticus 19, 1-2, 17-18 + Psalm 103 + 1st Corinthians 3, 16-23 + Matthew 5, 38-48
February 12, 2023 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
We have an uneasy relationship with law, and we have to keep careful watch over the civil law and the moral law. While they ought not conflict, the truth is, sometimes they do, and we need to be very clear about which one we choose to obey. Law is a guide, not a goal, and that’s the conflict Jesus addresses in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. Those who take offense at him have chosen to see the law as a goal, and they think that just keeping the law makes them righteous. Jesus says otherwise. The law leads to righteousness. It is a guide, not the goal.
Jesus insists that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. If anyone thought that Jesus was abolishing the law, they have not listened to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, Chapter 5. If the law was tough before, it gets tougher after Jesus. Now, it’s not just murder that will put someone on trial. It’s anger. No longer is adultery, but now it’s the lust that leads to it.
To truly keep the law is to go beyond it, or maybe get behind it to explore why the law is there. In doing so Jesus speaks about the little things that can erode our relationships with God and with each other. Ignored or left unattended, they erode relationships with God and others escalating into major offenses. Fulfillment of the law then means going deeper, getting into very heart of what the law protects or points to.
Ultimately, the preaching of Jesus was to invite us to profound freedom. Lifting the burden of the law was not abolishing the law, but an opportunity to address the issues that resulted in the law. Once addressed, the law would not be necessary. So, if anger goes, why need a law about murder. If Lust is silenced, why worry about adultery. If we address the injustice of this world and put a stop to the use of others for personal pleasure or profit, we are exploring the kind of freedom we would find in the Kingdom of God.
Perhaps in the end, it is really all about a profound respect for others. What is proclaimed here is an invitation to lay claim to the freedom to live in love. We cannot control others, but we can choose how to respond to them. My friends, perfect righteousness is the imitation of God. It is not found in the perfect observance of the law except in the perfect observance of the law of love. So, unless our righteousness, which is the perfect imitation of God, exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. I don’t know about each of you, but that clear and profound statement is a serious challenge in my life. Becoming the perfect imitation of God in whose image we are made makes me think: “Lord, have mercy”, and then continue by grace and by faith the steady and unending business of conversion.