Following the Law of the Lord
This Sunday, the sixth in Ordinary Time, we hear Jesus say to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.
Our first reading comes from the section of Sirach's writing on man's free will and responsibility while the second is from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Last week we heard Saint Paul address how his preaching illustrates the fact that man's strength and wisdom are nothing compared to those of God. Today we hear him tell of the true wisdom of God.
We also continue to hear from St. Matthew in the Gospel. This week, he writes of the Sermon on the Mount. We actually have various sayings of Christ, spoken on different occasions. Matthew, in his systematic manner, has gathered these sayings into one continuous discourse. This makes it easier for his readers, who were Jewish converts, to grasp the new order of salvation as inaugurated by Christ. They knew the ten commandments, but they knew them as their rabbis had taught them. These rabbis, for the most part Pharisees, put all the stress on the letter of the law and on its external observance. Christ's opening statement, that the attitude of his followers towards the commandments and other areas of the law must be different, and superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, clearly indicates how Christianity must differ from, and supersede, Judaism.
Christ is not abolishing the ten commandments, but he is demanding of his followers a more perfect, more sincere, fulfillment of them. No man serves or honors God by any exterior acts unless these acts proceed from an intention and a will to honor and please God. This is the idea of the new law, Christianity. The old law is not abolished, but deepened and given a new life.
Avoiding murder, therefore, is not enough; the true Christian must remove any inclination to murder by building up true, brotherly love for all men in his heart.
We must not only not injure our neighbor or fellowman in his person, or in his character, but we must be ever ready to help him and prevent injury to him, whenever and wherever we can. We must not only not commit adultery, but must also develop a Christian respect and esteem for purity, the virtue of which will preserve us not only from adultery but even from thoughts of adultery, or any other abuse of our sexual gifts given us by God for his purpose.
True and loyal service of God begins in the heart and has its value from this interior disposition. Keeping the ten commandments is our way of proving to God that we are grateful, obedient and loyal to him who gave us all we have and who has promised us future gifts infinitely greater still. And just as our love for God is proved by our true love for our neighbor, so the last seven of the commandments impose on us obligations regarding our neighbor. It is only by fulfilling these seven that we can fulfill the first three which govern our relations with God.
This truth is expressed by our Lord in the words: If you are offering your gift at the altar, and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there . . . first, be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.
O God, who teach us that you abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.