6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:17-37

You would be forgiven if, like me, you said “ouch” in your heart after that gospel!

This, you might say, is not the Jesus I have grown to love and respect! Maybe it is not all that it seems? I believe Matthew has introduced a measure of irony into Jesus’ words. Don’t even think about taking them literally!

Jesus says he came not to abolish but to fulfil the law. Reading between the lines, I believe he meant to make the law more meaningful and fit for purpose. Laws should be ideals to aim for rather than shackles to bind us. God never asks anything of us that we are unable to do!

Matthew was writing to 1st century Palestinian Jews who were totally hidebound by hundreds of rules and regulations. The, often maligned, Scribes and Pharisees kept them in tight control by regulating every moment of their lives. Life was tough under Roman occupation and there were many rebels!

Somebody once asked Jesus:

“Master, what is the greatest commandment of the law?”

Do you remember the answer?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Clearly, in the light of these, all the others ought to fall into place!

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus suggests to his disciples that they are missing the wood for the trees if they see the law as an end in itself. The law could be used to justify their own actions while condemning those who seem to transgress, often by no fault of their own. The rules become heartbreak, schism and separation rather than acceptance and unity.

Do you not think that it is the same for us today? If you think we have too many rules and regulations, you should read Leviticus!

Obviously, no society will exist for long without law. Rules and regulations should lead to the best way to live in peace with those around us. A guidance for the wise, not to be enforced regardless.

However, when simple precepts (like the Ten Commandments) left too much room for interpretation, hundreds more laws were invented to keep the chosen race from falling into sin, apostasy, and division. Moses obviously thought the Ten Commandments were not enough!

The true purpose of the law is made clear in the first reading from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus): “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”

God’s laws exist to help us choose between “life and death, good and evil,” and to form the basis of a community that one day, God willing, will include the entire world and, ultimately, eternal life.

In “Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love)” Pope Francis outlines a more compassionate vision for the church today. Urging all of us, deacons and priests particularly, to respond to the community with compassion and understanding!

He also said that “compassion is the voice of God”

Jesus showed us the love and compassion of God. He did not proclaim fear, doubt and division. I pray that we reach out to others in the same way. May the Christ in me reach out to the Christ in you.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”