1990 Feb 11 – 6th Sun Ord Tim (Bulletin Letters)
6th Sun Ord Time Cycle A
Mt 5, 17 – 37
DO YOU THINK THAT I HAVE COME TO ABOLISH THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS? I HAVE
COME, NOT TO ABOLISH THEM, BUT TO FULFILL THEM.” Matt. 5/17
Last week I got a letter from a woman who admired my stand against Nuclear Weapons but could not understand my reasoning for breaking the law. She wrote, “How can we expect our young Catholics to obey the laws when our Catholic priest, one of our community leaders, doesn’t?” It is a good question. This week’s gospel from Matthew goes a long way in helping me answer her question.
In today’s Gospel, we are at the heart of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is re-interpreting our understanding of the law. Jesus begins his re-interpretation with a general principle: He comes not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In Matthew, when Jesus “fulfills” scripture, it doesn’t mean that he “completes” it, as when a prediction comes true. Rather, Jesus is shown to reveal the true meaning of scripture, which forces us to re-evaluate our understanding of scripture. In other words, the Old Testament doesn’t interpret Jesus so much as Jesus interprets the Old Testament. Here the same situation prevails. Jesus is neither issuing a new law nor consolidating the old one. Rather, he becomes the criterion by which the law can be tested. In effect, he replaces the old law with a new understanding.
Judging by his re-interpretation of the four case studies in today’s text, murder, adultery, divorce and lying, Jesus is challenging his disciples to judge their observance of the law on their internal disposition rather than on the actual deeds in question. In other words, murder is wrong and so is
the anger behind the murder. From Jesus’ perspective, anyone who is angry with someone is just as liable to judgment as the person who commits murder. Jesus’ radical re-interpretation goes to the heart of the matter, the reason we have laws in the first place. Some have called Jesus’ law an “interior law.”
Human made laws, by definition, concern external behavior. When working properly, they prohibit dangerous extremes, leaving a vast area of free action outside of their jurisdiction. Jesus’ “interior law” is vastly different.
My best example of people who embrace the mandates of Jesus’ “interior law” is Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement she helped found. For over 50 years; Catholic Workers have been living with and sheltering the poor and the homeless, struggling to eliminate poverty by changing society and its structures and institutions which create and maintain conditions for poverty and homelessness to exist. They are not motivated by any ‘external’ law to embrace this radical lifestyle. Rather, they choose it in the spirit of Jesus’ ‘interior law’ of the heart, the Law of Love.
Sometimes Catholic Workers have chosen to break the’ external’ laws of the State in order to live out the prophetic demands of Jesus’ “interior” law of the heart. Christians have made similar choices in every generation. Human made ‘external laws’ cannot be the bottom line for a believer. The ‘interior’ law of the heart based on Jesus’ radical command to love is our bottom line, our guiding principle. Sometimes a follower of Jesus becomes an outlaw of the State in order to keep the ‘ interior law’ of the heart.