Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Living according to the Law's spirit (Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent, Mt. 5:17-19)

Jesus said 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.
Therefore, 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.”

* * * * * * *

There are those who label Jesus, a rebel. Today’s gospel reading shows that he is not so easily labeled or categorized. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”, he says rather forcefully. Why then do we often find him in other scripture passages seemingly breaking the law, like doing cures on the Sabbath?

The fact is, Jesus is making a point; just as he is in this particular gospel passage. And that point is that in living our life of faith, we must learn to distinguish between those elements of our religion that our central and those which belong to the margins or periphery. It is substance that was always more important to him, the trappings were only important because they served to lead one to the essence of faith. The Law was important, not in itself, but because it served to bring people closer to God and to one another. Hence one who, like the scribes and Pharisees became too obsessed with the minute details of the law to the detriment of his relationship with God and neighbor was missing the whole point of the Law.

In today’s reading, Jesus uses a word that is most instructive in trying to understand his message, that word is “surpass”. Our righteousness, he said, must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees. By that he meant of course, that we must learn to look and go beyond the letter of the Law and live according to the spirit of the Law. Go one step further, he says, if the Law says love your neighbor and hate your enemy, love your enemy as well. That doesn’t abolish the law, it completes it.

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