Today begins three days of Gospels from St. Matthew in which Jesus ups the ante, so to speak. Yesterday, He told his disciples that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. But in these three passages, His explanation of what the law requires is more demanding than the disciples’ prior understanding.
You have heard it said, you shall not kill….but I say, do not even be angry with your brothers and sisters.
You have heard it said, you shall not commit adultery…but I say, do not even look at another with lust.
You have heard it said, you shall not take a false oath…but I say, do not swear at all.
The discipes had understood the letter of the law they had been taught. But it clear that in Jesus’ eyes following the letter of the law is not enough. Instead, he invites fulfillment of the spirit of the law, fulfillment that is much harder for us than following the law as it had been taught through the prophets.
Not killing is easy, but are there many of us who have never experienced anger toward another? Not commiting adultery is easy, but are there many who have never looked another with lust. Not taking a false oath is easy, but isn’t is quite easy for a swear to come out of our mouths.
Following the spirit of the law as articulated by Jesus is not easy, but doing so is clearly what we are asked to aspire to. (I phrase it that way thinking of my friend Greg’s comment in his homily of yesterday morning that the Jesus’ law should be seen, not as something that must be satisfied to obtain salvation, but as an gift that guides us in living an authentic life.) And so I think of the words on the plaque on my study wall at home, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and I pray for the grace to fulfill the law as articulated by Jesus as well as I can. Hopefully a little better today than I did yesterday, and a little better tomorrow than today.