Saturday, February 11, 2017

To Fulfill

by Diane Bayne

“If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.” (Sirach 15:15)

“Yet among the mature, we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God which God decreed before the ages for our glorification.” (1 Corinthians 2: 6-8)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. . . (Matthew 5:17)

“For I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 20)

This Sunday’s readings tell us that God never asks more of us than that of which we are capable and that it is possible to keep God’s commandments.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that the wisdom of the present age is passing away and that the Gospel of Jesus imparts the secret and hidden wisdom of God.  Then, in the Gospel, Jesus imparts this wisdom:  that outward observance of the law, which the Scribes and Pharisees preach, is not enough.  Jesus’ Gospel transcends the law.  It is not enough that we do not murder, commit adultery, divorce or lie.  The law of the new covenant is a law that God has written on our hearts and with Jesus calls on us to honor that law by paying attention to what is going on in our hearts and in mastering our passions and emotions.

Our study this week is demanding, for it requires that we look beyond the outward veneer of our beliefs into their very deepest meaning.  It means that we must not only understand this meaning but that our conduct must honor it.  And so, as the website of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests makes clear, Jesus demands that we not only respect people’s right to life but also their right to dignity and self-respect. 

When speaking about sexual purity, Jesus refers not only to physical purity but about the purity of intention in general.  When speaking about truth telling, Jesus makes clear that what is of value is not swearing as such but an atmosphere of openness, truth telling, and mutual confidence, which makes swearing unnecessary.

As the Irish priests observe, one’s mere legal observance is utterly insignificant to Jesus.  What is of supreme importance is not one’s strict adherence to religious beliefs and duties but one’s fidelity to the very heart of the Gospel.  This fidelity makes keeping the commandments even more demanding than the literal commandment-keeping advocated by the Scribes and Pharisees.   As the priests’ observe, “One approach to today’s Scriptures would be to take them as pointers and ideals for Christian morality.”  To approach this ideal requires constant prayer and practice and to agree–both in theory and practice--with the great Benedictine admonition:  “Each day we begin again.”  

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