February 12, 2023
Sister Mary Jane Vigil, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
Growing up in a large family there was invariably one who was very legalistic. A younger brother was one of these. When told of such family rules as playing in our yard and not in the street, he insisted that to turn his bicycle around part of it needed to go out into the street. Reflecting on his attitude it would not have done any good for my parents to quote Sirach from the 1st reading who said, “If you choose to obey this rule it will save you.” My brother was bound and determined to get away with all he could, to test the limits. For him the rule was an authoritarian limit on his freedom. For my parents it was a matter of safety, of preserving his life to survive another day. “If you choose to obey it will save you.”
Those who follow God’s commandments didn’t do so to get into heaven. They adhered to them because their obedience guaranteed a more fulfilling, enjoyable life here and now. To ignore them was to refuse life.
Our attitude toward the law depends on the reasons we see for it and on our feelings for those who have given it. One level for obedience, like my brother’s, is conformity to avoid punishment. The only reason for following the rule was to keep himself out of trouble. When the potential punishment or risk of being caught diminishes there is no motivation for keeping the law. St. Matthew reminds his community of Jesus’ saying: “I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you…not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus always obligates us to do more than the original law demands.
This Sunday’s readings talk about a much different appreciation of divine law. The selection from the Book od Sirach, a collection of Jewish wisdom, claims that obedience to God’s law leads to genuine quality of life. The law turns out to be more of a revelation than a demand. The response for this week’s psalm implies that God’s law offers the pathway to a life full of blessing. When we learn to appreciate that following the law of God leads to tranquility, it makes much more sense.
The reading from St. Paul says divine wisdom comes from knowing the mystery of Christ. Paul was convinced that these new ways of looking at the commandments come from allowing the Spirit of God to enlighten us. Paul experienced life in a deeper way as the result of his relationship of love, making it impossible to understand the law outside of the context of being caught up in God’s love.
Jesus applies the law of wisdom to the everyday relationships of people in community—and what He says applies as startingly now as it did on the day he first uttered these things. Jesus connects anger to leading someone to demean another human. We are to remember that anger comes from the same root as Cain’s murder of Able. Jesus emphasized making peace before we presume to offer anything to God, reminding us that the first murder took place in the context of making an offering to God. (Genesis 4:2-10)
When Jesus talks about relationships between the sexes, Jesus avoids judging the picky details and demands due reverence for every person made in God’s image. On the question of divorce, Jesus tells the audience that if you put someone in an impossible situation, you are responsible for what happens as a result.
Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount presents Jesus as a new Moses, not as the lawgiver but as a guide who shows the way to a life full of blessings. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses told the people that through the covenant, God was offering them life or death, blessing or curse. When Jesus interpreted the Mosaic law, he went straight to the heart of the matter. Fulfillment of the law is simply a question of love.