February 16, 2020

FEBRUARY 16, 2020

Today’s gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount and is entitled “The Old Law and the New.” This is a message that we probably need to hear more now than ever before.

In the gospel Jesus clearly states some obvious directives, some laws that we need to follow. Jesus tells us that murder is unacceptable, and how anger is not good. Jesus says we should not carry a grudge, but instead to forgive, and to treat people with compassion and caring. Jesus talks about impurity and immorality and how it is not acceptable even in thought.

Jesus tells us we don’t just need to talk the talk, but instead we need to walk the walk. Just saying something is okay isn’t enough; we need to turn our words into actions. Unfortunately, the moral compass that is meant to be followed by our society is spinning on its axis and out of control. It’s sending us in many different directions, to destinations that fill our desires as opposed to giving direction to living a good moral life. For some these mixed messages can be very confusing!

People often complain about rules and the boundaries they impose, but people like rules a lot more than they usually admit. From the time we are old enough to realize that we can misbehave, we naturally want to test the boundaries, to learn just how far we can go before we cross the line. In many instances we want to know the boundaries, so we don’t do wrong. The clearer the lines, the more secure we tend to feel in our own actions, but we may also find ourselves judging the actions of others.

With this motivation for knowing the difference between good and evil we may miss the reasons for the laws. In today’s Gospel, Jesus explains to His disciples that they are missing the point when it comes to God’s laws, which the Israelites have come to see as the end all.

After being called out of slavery, the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments in order to unify them as a nation and bringing order and salvation through the Word of God. The tablets and the directives they contain are not suggestions but the basis for that law.

Because of our gift of a free will, following the law is a matter of choice. This is made clear in our first reading from Sirach: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you.”

People generally look to leaders for guidance in how to conduct themselves, how to live their lives. As a society we have laws to guide us, today we sometimes receive mixed messages from what society deems acceptable. It seems that for every law there is an exception or action that justifies conduct that goes against the way God would like us to live.

God’s law exists to help us choose between “life and death, good and evil,” and to form the basis of a human community. Eventually, the Israelites did what most of us do, to see the law as justification of our actions while condemning those who transgress, even by the smallest measure. Rather than seeing the loving purpose of the laws, God’s people cling to the law rather than salvation, and use it as a means of separation rather than unity.

Jesus warns, when we set our hearts on division and hatred, we have already rejected the law. It is not enough merely to follow the law by our actions; we need to let the Lord write the laws on our hearts.

We have to act beyond our own impulses and think of others as well as ourselves.

The Lord has prepared us to live in harmony with each other. When we rely on the law as an end point, or to rationalize our own sins while condemning others for theirs, we miss our lives and our salvation.

The message we hear today is a message not from teachers or scribes but from Jesus. We need to practice what we preach. We need to put our vision into practice. We don’t need to focus on a book of rules but instead focus on living our lives in a way where spiritual integrity becomes our moral compass. We need to live with compassion and caring for one another.

Through prayer and listening to the cry of those around us and following the example of Jesus, we will deepen our faith and live a life driven by compassion, compassion that is at the center of our Catholic faith.
Deacon Nick Veliky

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