Friday, February 26, 2010

The Law is a 'means', not an 'end unto itself' (Friday, 1st Week of Lent, Mt. 5:20-26)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills
will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you, you will not be released
until you have paid the last penny.”

* * * * * * * *

The scribes and the Pharisees were the teachers and keepers of the Law. They were the also the ones who sought to zealously live out every single precept of their understanding of the Law of Moses which they managed to multiply into hundreds of rules that governed every single bit of people’s everyday lives.

One would therefore think that such expansion of the coverage of the Law would have made them acceptable to Jesus who, time and again, exhorted his disciples not to be satisfied with following the bare minimum of the Law.

Unfortunately, while the scribes and Pharisees multiplied the rules, they also held that a strict adherence to every single rule was enough to render a man righteous in the face of God.

This Jesus would not accept. His followers’ faith had to surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees who, while expanding the Law, were also satisfied with merely obeying each one of them, without transcending their requirements.

And how are the disciples to do this? By looking at the Law and asking themselves, what is the Law really asking for? What are our religious obligations really asking of us? Is it mere mechanical observance, or was it something more, something interior, something coming from the heart?

This was what Jesus wanted his disciples to imbibe, namely, the attitude of one who saw the Law for what it is, a means by which a person comes closer to God and his neighbor.

The Law isn’t an end in itself, nor should it be a hindrance to a person’s relationship with God and others. In this the scribes and Pharisees lacked, but in this Jesus admonishes us to be good at, to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)