Homily – February 16, 2014

“Walk in the law of the Lord”

First of all we must know that not all scribes and Pharisees were bad people, neither phonies, nor hypocrites. Many of the first members of the Christian community in Jerusalem were scribes and Pharisees.

In the gospel Jesus is going after those scribes and Pharisees who use the law to impose heavy burdens on the little people of the land and harshly judge them for not keeping the law in the way they saw the law should be kept. This harshness was especially true concerning the laws governing the Sabbath. Jesus accused them of laying heavy burdens hard to bear on people’s shoulders and yet would not lift a finger to ease these burdens. They criticized Jesus for curing the Sabbath and he had to remind them the Sabbath was for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words cut the cloth to fit the person, not the person to fit the cloth.

In this section on the Sermon on the Mount Jesus offers us a whole new vision as to how we are to live the law. You have heard it said – but I say to you. Jesus calls us to see beyond the strict observance and letter of the law to the spirit of the law, what lies beyond it; especially the great law of love Jesus gave us the night before he died for us. As we heard in the first reading from the book of Sirach, God’s commandments are meant to call us to life, to a deeper union with God. Each day each one of us is offered a choice – life and death, good and evil, whichever we choose will be given us.

“I tell you, unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” Murder had already been forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but Jesus plumbs to the heart of murderous intent. We would never take someone’s life but what about the unspoken anger and resentment we feel toward someone? What about the quiet contempt we may feel toward someone because of who they are or where they come from or what they believe? Jesus tells us that if we harbor a grudge or are unwilling to forgive a past hurt or injustice then we are to leave our gift at the altar and go and be reconciled with the person who hurt us or let us down and then our gift to the God of peace will be authentic. We would never think of committing adultery and yet be addicted to pornography on the internet. We may never think of robbing someone and yet we may be stealing their good name and reputation by our gossip.

In trying to live our lives following God’s commandments we try to see beyond the words to the spirit of that commandment, to its deeper meanings, its deeper challenges.

We are good people and for the most part we do the best we can but sometimes our ‘keeping the commandments’ can be superficial. Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Mr. Catholic went to Mass he never missed a Sunday but Mr. Catholic went to hell for what he did on Monday’?

With today’s gospel in mind we can pray for ourselves and for each other that every day of the week, with the help of God’s grace we will walk, we will live in the law of the Lord.