Living Christ’s Law: The Choice of Life!
Readings: (1st: Ecc 15: 15-20; Ps 118: 1-2. 4-5; 2nd: Heb2, 6-10; Gos: Matt 5:17-37)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
On this 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A, the church invites us to reflect on the Commands of Jesus and to pay close attention to what the Law of the Lord actually commands and demands from us. This command differs from any man-made law and is imbued with the wisdom that comes from God Himself. Since this Command or Law is a product of God’s love, it can only be appreciated or fulfilled through a genuine love and concern for others. So, we are encouraged to faithfully obey these commands as they are the source of our salvation and life. Living and obeying God’s Law means choosing the FUNDAMENTAL OPTION OF LIFE, while the contrary means death!
Imagine a community, state, or even a world without rules, regulations, laws or a constitution to govern its people. I suppose it would be worst than Thomas Hobbs “State of Nature,” where according to the Plautus’ comedy of 195 BC, Asinaria: “Homo homini lupus est (Man is wolf to man”). Imagine a football match without rules to guide it! I once watched one between the Christian Mothers and Fathers of my parish. During this game which was actually meant to create fun due to age and inexperience, a mother-player or even a mother on the bench or on the side line could suddenly rush into the pitch grab the ball by her hands as if she was playing Rugby or American Football, and head straight for the post. If she succeeds in casting it into the post it is counted as a goal for her team whereas, the Christian fathers could not do that. We all know that in a normal football game knowing and playing by the rules of the game is the beginning of wisdom, and what keeps one in the game, else, a player who deliberately handles the ball could be sent off with a flash of a red card from a FIFA graded Umpire. Laws and rules are an important part of our lives. Without rules or laws our world would be a place of anarchy and confusion. Aristotle said: “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” We need laws! We need rules!! They help us know the boundaries!!!
In today’s first reading, Ben Sirac (the son of Sirac) presents and tosses the two sides of the coin for us and leaves us with the choice of life and death. In other words, he gives us the freedom of choice through the following conditional statement: “If you wish you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power…Man has life and death before him, which ever a man likes better will be given him…” The major focus here is on obeying the commands of the Lord. Moses also, in his farewell speech revealed to the Israelites the secrete of life: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…walk in the ways of God, keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase” (Deut 30, 15-16) This simply means that by obeying the Law of God, we make the choice of life. The Psalmist today also speaks further on the need for us to choose life by obeying the commands of God. He anchors humanity’s source of true happiness in following and obeying the Lord’s Command: “They are happy who follow God’s Law; they are happy who do his will…” In all of these, we must be very careful not to become mere fundamentalists, fanatics or even hypocrites as the Pharisees who out of the twelve laws given to them, made a whooping six hundred and thirteen other rules which they themselves could not observe. This is why we must pray like, and with the Psalmist today: Train me to observe your law, to keep it within my heart.” We must live the Spirit of the Law and not just its letters!
In the second reading, Paul prefers to use wisdom to refer to Christ’s Commands. In other words, to obey the commands of Christ is the wisest thing to do. Hence, it is a mark of wisdom to choose to obey and live by the Law of Christ which is his word as the Psalmist tells us: “The entrance of your word brings wisdom” (Ps 119: 130). Paul contrasts this wisdom that comes from obeying Christ’s Law or Command with those from human philosophy. What this means is that the commands of the Lord transcends and supersedes the words of men. The wisdom that comes from the Laws of God are things of the Spirit which are themselves the word of God divinely inspired, whereas, the wisdom of men are mundane. Hence, Jesus tells us that, “what is born of the spirit is spirit and what is born of the flesh is the flesh…”(John 3, 6).
The gospel from Matthew 5, 17-37, and verse 17 in particular, has offered great debates and reflections to biblical scholars as to what Christ meant when he says: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to complete them.” After this pronouncement, in what seems to be a contradiction, Jesus went ahead to marshal out what appears to be a new or even more difficult rules. Another source of controversy is the fact that we make reference to Christ as the New Law in the New Testament and Moses as the Old Law in the Old Testament. How do we reconcile these quagmires and what is the Lord teaching us today? First and foremost, Jesus is true to his word! He did not come to bring a new law or to abolish the old law, but to fulfill it. According to Charles Spurgeon, “the life, work, and words of Christ are not an emendation of the Old Testament or an abrogation of it. It stands fast and firm, fulfilled and carried to perfection in Christ.” The Greek word for “abolish” is kataluo from kata, i.e. down and luo, i.e. loose, untie; release, to destroy, pull down, to break up, to demolish, etc. This means to abrogate or set aside the exercise of legislative authority. To a religious Jew (like Jesus Christ Himself), even the thought of such a thing would be a profanity. On the other hand, the Greek word for “fulfill” is alla plerosai i.e., pleroo which means full. This means to make complete in every particular, to complete the design, and to fulfill what was predicted in the OT. Again, in his sermon “Perpetuity of the Law,” Spurgeon mentioned three ways through which Christ fulfilled the Law. “First, the law is fulfilled in the matchless sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the law has been fulfilled again for us by Christ in His life. But that is not all. The law has to be fulfilled in us personally in a spiritual and gospel sense.”
Today’s pronouncement of Jesus is treaty against hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Sadducees of both his time and our present age who interpret the law falsely in order to suit their idiosyncrasy and to the detriment of the people. It a treaty against all false Seers, Healers, Leaders and Pastors of flocks who employ the word of God and the messengers formula “Koh ȃmar Adonai” (Thus says the Lord!) falsely in order to intimidate, rip off, exploit, subjugate and enslave people. It is a treaty against those of our present age who see sin in everything or every action of the human person especially in things they cannot comprehend thereby making life difficult for others while they themselves fall short of virtually everything the word of God commands. It is a treaty against those self made or acclaimed “women” and “men of God” who take care of their flock in foreign lands whereas their family is in shambles because of lack of care and love. It is a treaty against those of our age who view the word of God as a six inches nail or screw that must be driven into people by force with a sledge hammer. Finally, it is a treaty against the Pharisees of our time who pay the greatest attention to the letters of the law but make little effort to live the Spirit of the Law.
Peace be with you!