Sixth Sunday – Fulfilling the Law

If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you… [God] has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir. 15:15, 20).

The Gospel of St. Matthew presents Our Lord as the new Moses or lawgiver who explains the precepts of the Old Law in greater fullness and detail and who brings the Law to perfection. ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill’ (Mt. 5:17). Hence, Our Lord introduces the fuller meaning of the Law with this familiar phrase: ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times….But I say to you’. Our Lord calls us to go beyond the minimal observance of the Law to an appreciation not only of the deeper meaning of a given precept but more importantly, to an appreciation of the mind of the lawgiver – the mind of God Himself. Observance of the law is not beyond our capacity or ability because God does not command the impossible. We are reminded in our first reading in very simple terms: If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you… [God] has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir. 15:15, 20).

It has been said of our times that they are antinomian. This word is derived from a Greek word meaning lawless. In Christian theology, the heresy of antinomianism implies that Christians are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality. This is not a new heresy or error. Even in the early Church there were those who said that all that matters is love. But that is not enough, because love can never be separated from truth. Sometimes, in an effort to explain the moral teaching of Our Lord, there are those who speak of the legalism of the Pharisees as an extreme to be avoided at all costs; so much so that the Law itself is derided and seen as something to be dismissed altogether. A more subtle and dangerous line of argument at least as it concerns the moral law is the preaching of the morals of mercy irrespective of conversion and penance; or proposing the idea that the Commandments of God are oppressive and burdensome, or that we can contradict them and still claim to be faithful to Our Lord. We must humbly heed the words of Sacred Scripture: If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and they will save you… [God] has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir. 15:15, 20).

To those who believed in Him, Our Lord said plainly: ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (Jn. 8:32). Our Lord invites us to perceive the truth of the Law; and so we make our very own the words of the Psalmist: Open my eyes, so that I may behold the wondrous things out of your law…Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart (Ps. 119). These are the sentiments of a son or a daughter who desires to understand, not to oppose; of children who are grateful for the concern of a loving Father, not resentful of His authority. This is the mature attitude that we must bring to our efforts to observe the demands of God’s Law.

Given the times there is hardly a family that has remained unaffected by the moral confusion of our times. In some cases we have received contradictory counsel and we are rightly confused. Therefore, we must be on our guard against those who hold the form of religion but deny the power of it (Cf. 2 Tim. 3:5); and we must endeavour to appropriate, that is, to make our own, God’s wisdom, which is best understood as the coupling of truth and love. Hence, St. Paul exhorts us: Among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age….But we speak God’s wisdom…which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1 Cor. 2:6-7).

To appropriate God’s wisdom is not always an easy thing and sometimes, perhaps often, we fail and fall, but His eyes are on those who fear Him (Sir. 15:19); and so we are confident in the help of His grace. We may be afflicted, but we are not crushed; perplexed but not given to despair (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Perhaps there was a time in our own lives when we rebelled against the demands of God’s law or found them very burdensome; yet out of the experience of the desolation and misery that inevitably result from losing our way, we returned to the practice of our faith and made our very own the words of the St. Peter the Apostle: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68). In the journey of faith, whether we were baptized as infants or as adults, a time comes, a moment of truth of sorts that engages us; and we understand that our all our efforts must be directed to actually being who we are – disciples of Jesus Christ. And so we never tire of heeding the invitation of Our Lord: ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Mt. 11:29-30). Only this way do we become even remotely capable of understanding the wisdom of God’s law.

In what is effectively his autobiography, the great English Cardinal, St. John Henry Newman vividly describes his own moment of truth when he came to the realisation that the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church of God; and he observed that the drama of religion, and the combat of truth and error were ever one and the same (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Image Books, p.217). Our times are in this sense, no different from other times. And yet, they are even more challenging because the religious vacuum of our times has also resulted in a dangerous moral vacuum in which the categories of truth and error are questionable if not altogether moot. We are nevertheless engaged in a spiritual combat of truth and error, and it is not a struggle we can avoid; lest we be swept away tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive (Eph. 4:4) – and lost.  May Our Lord give us the grace of humility and docility; that we may receive His words of eternal life; confident in the knowledge that as we walk in the law of the Lord (Ps. 119), His eyes are on those who fear Him (Sir. 15:19).