In yesterday’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus told his disciples that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Perhaps so, but in the Gospels we hear today and for the next two days, it is clear that Jesus understanding of what the law requires is a bit more demanding than the disciples’ prior understanding.
You have heard it said, you shall not kill…but I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
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 disciples 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 actually killing another is easy, but are there many of us who have never experienced anger toward another? Not actually entering into an adulterous relationship 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. This past year I gave several RCIA talks on the Ten Commandments and this was a major thrust of our discussion. Meeting the literal language of the commandments (do not kill, do not steal) is fairly straightforward; living in accordance with a fuller sense of what each requires is a different matter.
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. And so I think of the words on the plaque on my study wall: “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.