Ps 119 R/. Blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord.
1 Cor 2:6-10
I have come not to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfil [them] (Mt 5:17). Jesus isn’t a departure from the promises made to Israel through Abraham, Moses and David; rather He’s their accomplishment.
Today’s Gospel passage continues the Sermon on the Mount that we began two weeks ago with the Beatitudes. In this wonderful and powerful Sermon, which takes up three chapters* of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus takes us into a deeper, a truer understanding of the Law given through Moses at Sinai. He takes us beyond the mere letter of the Law to discover its interior meaning, its intention, its spirit.
This was very important in Jesus’ day because some schools of thought, especially that of the Pharisees, focussed only on the need to perfectly obey the Law, instead of showing how it was to be the way to God, thereby making the Law a burden and not a joy. In today’s Gospel, Jesus explicitly corrects the interpretation of a few of these ‘burdensome’ laws. In doing so, He doesn’t do away with them; rather He puts them into their proper place, their proper perspective: that of serving the Lord and living in His love.
Many people in the Church today — laity and clergy alike — feel that the Church is once more caught up in a legalistic interpretation of the teachings of Christ, making God’s commandments burdensome instead of liberating. It needs to ‘leave the Middle Ages behind, they say, and catch up to modern times’. (Interestingly, this criticism is almost only ever directed at the moral teachings of the Church.)
But as we heard in the first reading, God has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir 15:20); rather — as we’ll hear next Sunday —, He’s commanded us to be holy for He Himself is holy (cf. Lv 19:2). God’s laws aren’t meant to burden us, they’re meant to lead us to salvation: keep the commandments, and they will save you, said Ben Sirach in the first reading today (Sir 15:15). God’s commandments show us the way to Himself; they reveal to us who God is, and how we can follow Him. This is what the Church proclaims in her teachings, which reveal Christ to us and point us in the right direction to imitate Him.
You see, the Church’s laws — Christ’s laws — aren’t a series of “dos” and “don’ts”; they’re not a random set of policies intended to ‘maintain the Church’s power’. The Church’s laws aren’t mere letter, they’re spiritual: they’re the natural and necessary consequences of discipleship. If we say we follow Christ, then we must actually follow Him.
To follow Christ is to live like Him, and to imitate Him is to obey His commandment to love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind, and to love [our] neighbours as [our]selves (Mt 22:37-39). Everything else the Church teaches flows directly out of this commandment to love, and seeks, like Jesus does in today’s Gospel, to help us understand what that means in the particular contexts of our lives.
After having listed all its canons, the Code of Canon Law, wraps-up by saying: …the salvation of souls… [is] the supreme law in the Church (can. 1752). The Church teaches what she does to help us get to Heaven; her actions are directed to our salvation. Consequently, then, if there’s a particular Church teaching that we don’t like, we owe it to ourselves to try to understand what the Church is saying and why. We cannot simply choose to abide by some Church teachings and ignore others; that would be like choosing to accept only one part of Christ, and ignoring the rest of Him. Christ cannot be divided, and neither can His laws. We’re called to embrace Him entirely and to follow Him in faith with dedication. This is the way to imitate Christ, the way to holiness, the way to salvation; and it’s the way to which all of us have been called.
[Love] is the reason why anything should be done or left undone, changed or unchanged; it is the initial principle and the end to which all things should be directed (Bl. Isaac of Stella, Sermo 31, Office of Readings for Saturday Week V in Ordinary Time). Christ’s laws — the Church’s laws — are laws that point us in the direction of love; laws that teach us how to love. We must, therefore, pay close attention to both their letter and their spirit, allowing them to guide us along the path of love, shaping us ever more into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the Scriptures today said: …to act faithfully is a matter of [our] own choice. If [we] choose, [we] can keep the commandments, and they will save [us] (Sir 15:16, 15). Therefore, we pray: teach [us], O Lord, the way of your statutes, and [we] will observe it to the end. Give [us] understanding, that [we] may keep your law and observe it with [our] whole heart (Ps 119:33-34), for indeed blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord! (Refrain to the Psalm). Amen.