“Do not think,” the Lord Jesus declares “that I have come to abolish the law…. not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law” until it is fulfilled. Someday the law will be entirely “fulfilled”—it will have served its purpose and can be dispensed with—when we are all in heaven. Here below, however, as we struggle to love, and make our perilous way through the dark parts of this life, we need the law. We need to respect and keep the God’s laws, and we should love them. God’s law is an indispensable road map that will take us to heaven.
We can do this, with God’s help
We began the Sermon on the Mount two weeks ago with the Beatitudes (“blessed are the poor in spirit” etc), the so-called Ten Commandments of the New Testament. The beatitudes, however, fulfil rather than replace the old law. In the Gospel today, Jesus gives us the divine intention behind the old law, scraping off the rust, as it were, to reveal God’s shining purpose within them. It can be hard for us to understand the purpose of even simple traffic laws—why can’t I turn right on this red light? Why is the speed limit 25 on this street? If even traffic laws have good reasons, imagine the divine reason behind “Thou Shalt not Kill, ” “Thou Shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not swear.”
The Prophet Sirach, in our first reading, assures us that God does not command the impossible. “If you choose you can keep the commandments; they will save you, if you trust in God … Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” It’s not impossible to choose the good, even in very difficult circumstances. The trick is to trust God. Say to yourself: My Father does not ask me to do the impossible. For that which he commands, he provides the grace. The saints are luminous proofs that a man can trust God. Maximilian Kolbe, for instance, trusted God with his life, believing that “no greater love has a man than to give his life for another” as he gave his life for another man in Auschwitz. So in today’s Gospel, Jesus explains the fullness of Commandments Five, Six, and Eight.
First, “thou shalt not kill.” Seems reasonable enough, but there are hard cases. Yesterday a bunch of us witnessed to the Fifth Commandment at the Valencia Street abortion clinic. Angry protesters shouted us down, hurling obscenities. Surely they know it’s wrong to kill, but they think we cannot be expected to keep this law in hard cases. We witness to the fact that, if we choose, we can preserve life rather than destroy it. Keeping this law is a great gift, not an impossible burden. This law frees us from a culture of death.
Second, “thou shalt not commit adultery.” Even St Peter said to Jesus “Lord, if that is the way it is between a man and his wife, better not marry!” But Peter later witnessed that God gives us the grace to love our wives and our husbands, even when they don’t love us. Your marriage does not depend on your spouse’s love for you—you can’t count on that—but on your love for him. This depth of love is the fulfilment of the law, and it is a gift from God.
Third, “thou shalt not swear.” In our mendacious society, lamentably, swearing and lying are universally accepted. We have become accustomed to “fake news,” social media slander, “urban legends.” We are not surprised to learn that a corporation, a politician, a media star has simply falsified something for personal gain. How can we not lie and swear when everyone else is? But Christians witness that God will give us the courage to tell the truth, for He is worthy of our trust, He, the Way, the Life, and the Truth.
God’s gift of Wisdom leading us to Heaven
God’s law is our treasure. It is a precious gift both in that we cannot keep it without His grace, and in that this gift frees us from becoming one more rat in a rat race, a society of trained apes who lie, cheat, steal, and kill each other. We finish this morning’s reflection with St. Paul. “Brethren, we speak a wisdom …which God predetermined before the ages for our glory--What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard…what God has prepared for those who love him. The law makes us wise, so that we can get to heaven. And heaven is our loving Father’s ultimate gift to his beloved children. Let us try to trust Him!