Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:17-37 OR 5:20-22A, 27-28, 33-34A, 37
February 16, 2020
For health as well as appearance sake, a good friend was determined to begin 2020 “on a diet.” She did her homework and hit on a program that, at first glance, appeared to be fairly severe. What appealed, however, was the promise of dramatic results within 30 days, and without the need to measure or weigh food or count calories. She bought the book and began to read “the laws.” THOU SHALL NOT CONSUME…sugar, grains, legumes, dairy products, or alcohol…simple as that! What was permitted, however, was a wide range of healthy, fresh, and non-processed food. The theory behind this particular diet is that by abstaining from certain addictive foods for a relatively short period of time, it is possible to regain control over our appetites, redirecting them towards what is good for us.
My friend began by enthusiastically reading the book. By day two, she still had her nose in the book, only now she was desperately searching for ways to circumvent “the laws.” Can’t I use just a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar in my coffee? Do I have to take the croutons off my salad? Peanuts aren’t really legumes, are they? What harm would a small glass of wine be on Friday night? As the first week progressed, her search for exemptions intensified. She became especially anxious when she read that ANY violation means starting over again from the beginning.
Midway into week two, she noticed some significant changes occurring. The hunger pains had disappeared. Her cravings for things that are prohibited became less demanding. Her feelings of wellness and well-being increased as did her energy level. And she became less dependent on the book, consulting it only occasionally for a new recipe. “The law” had moved from the book to her mind and became central to her lifestyle. At the beginning, the program required a good deal of discipline. For her efforts, however, she has been rewarded with better health, and she did lose weight. But, will this last?
St. Augustine once said that: God wrote on the tablets of The Law what men did not read in their hearts. It is important to understand, however, that “The Law” that Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel is much more than The 10 Commandments. The Old Testament Law is found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, speaking to three distinct areas: ceremonial- ritual, civil, and moral law. All three areas of the Old Testament Law were a gift from God to guide humankind in the responsible use of God’s greatest gift to us: free will.
God’s Laws were given to help us live healthy, happy, and peaceful lives by making the right choices and good and sound decisions. When faithfully observed, God’s Laws enable us to be even more beautiful in the sight of our Creator as well as one another. Although the principles underlining the ceremonial and civil laws intended to guide Israel still stand, the requirement for strict observance has given way to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. By contrast, the moral aspect of the Old Testament Law remains in full force and effect.
But, human nature being what it is, those whom Jesus encountered and challenged…much as people today, search God’s Law for ways to circumvent it…rationalize behavior inconsistent with it…impose it in a severe fashion on others while living above it themselves…or judge themselves as being totally compliant, when, in fact, few can be totally faithful to every letter of The Law. Then, of course, there are those who totally ignore God’s Law.
And so, Matthew reports on The Lord’s efforts to enlighten the people of His time…as well as us today…as to God’s intentions in gifting us with The Law. Our Creator has provided us with guidance so that we might live free from all those addictions that erode our free will and cause us to indulge in unhealthy cravings.
Moreover, Jesus shows us that this doesn’t have to be complicated. Just like my friend’s diet can be reduced to THOU SHALL NOT CONSUME…5 things…God’s Law can be reduced to THOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND…AND YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.
It really is quite simple. When we reduce The Law to these two, simple Commandments, moving them from The Book to our minds and hearts, our spiritual health rapidly improves. Love becomes our lifestyle. And the good news is, should we slip back into our old addictions, we can easily start again with the help of God’s grace.