If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing. The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands mans every deed. No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.
Refrain: Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
1) Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD;
Blessed are they who observe his decrees, who seek him with all their heart. (Refrain:)
2) You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways of keeping your statutes! (Refrain:)
3) Be good to your servant, that I may live and keep your words.
Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law. (Refrain:)
4) Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak Gods wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to brother, 'Raga,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
"You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
"It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife unless the marriage is unlawful causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
"Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,'and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one."
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
At the beginning of today's gospel passage, our Lord tells his disciples that he has come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. At first blush, this might appear to be the most astonishing thing that he ever said because he was constantly breaking the law, at least the law as the leaders of the Jews interpreted it. But that is exactly the point. The law which Jesus came to fulfill is the law of the Ten Commandments as God handed them down.
"In the Hebrew Scriptures, we find very few rules and regulations. What we do find are broad principles which the Jews had to internalize and interpret for themselves with God's guidance. To the later Jews, these principles did not seem enough. They argued that out of the law, it must be possible to deduce a rule and a regulation for every possible situation in life. So there came to be a group of men called the Scribes whose job it was to reduce the great principles of the law into literally thousands and thousands of minute rules and regulations. And the Pharisees, whose name means the Separated Ones, were those men who had separated themselves from all of the ordinary activities of life in order to keep all of these rules and regulations.
"The one great principle upon which all of the Commandments were based was this: the Jews had to seek to do God's will and to dedicate their lives to following it to the best of their ability." (1) Jesus tells his followers that their righteousness must be greater than that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. The Greek word for "righteousness", dikaiosune, comes from the root dikaios which means justice. And justice means to live a moral life. So justice means far more than following minute rules and regulations. It means treating others fairly, as we ourselves would want to be treated by others. Thus, "the Scribes and Pharisees were right in seeking God's will, and profoundly right in dedicating their lives to obeying it; but they were wrong in finding that will in their man-made hordes of rules and regulations."(1)
The law of the Ten Commandments was based on obedience. Christ fulfilled the law by obeying the will of God even to his death and thus reduced his new law to one word and that word was love. Obedience is based on intellect, whereas love is based on emotion. Obedience motivates us to do what we do if we know what is good for us (as my aunt used to advise me on more than one occasion!), whereas love motivates us to do what we do if we know what is good for others. Obedience motivates us to do what we know we should do, while love motivates us to do those things that we want to do for others. Obedience comes from our heads, whereas love comes from our hearts. And it is in our hearts that the law of love must reside.
If we bring this understanding to the rest of our gospel passage today, then I think that it begins to make more sense. Christ was saying not only that the murderer is wrong, but that the one who holds anger in their heart enough to someday commit a murder is wrong. Not only is the person who commits adultery wrong, but the person who wishes for it in their heart has also already done wrong because that desire could flare up at moment into fulfillment. In all things, in determining what is right, all we have to do is look to our hearts.
On Tuesday, we will celebrate the feast of Saint Valentine. He has an interesting history.
- According to church tradition, St. Valentine was a priest near Rome in about the year 270 A.D. At that time the Roman Emperor was imprisoning Christians for not worshiping the Roman gods. During this persecution Valentine was arrested. Some say he was arrested because he was performing Christian marriages, but others say it was for helping Christians escape prison. During the trial they asked Valentine what he thought of the Roman gods Jupiter and Mercury. Of course Valentine said they were false gods and that the God that Jesus called Father was the only true God. So the Romans threw him in prison for insulting the gods. While in prison Valentine continued to minister. He witnessed to the guards. One of the guards was a good man who had adopted a blind girl. He asked Valentine if his God could help his daughter. Valentine prayed and the girl was given her sight. The guard and his whole family, 46 people, believed in Jesus and were baptized. Because these people had come to know Jesus, Valentine praised God right there in his prison cell. When the emperor heard about this, he was furious that Valentine was still making converts even in prison, so he had Valentine beheaded. (2)
Valentine's commitment to the law of love and his love for Christ was total; he gave all he had, even his own life. Sounds familiar, doesn't it. Christ obeyed the Father's will to the point of sacrificing his own life, not for his own salvation, but for ours. Sometimes we are called to do the same. I believe the following story speaks very well about unconditional love. The author writes:
- Five days after the accident on Memorial Day weekend 1995, I became fully conscious and able to make sense. Dr. Scott Henson and Dr. John Jane, chief of neurosurgery at University of Virginia Hospital, explained my situation. They told me in detail about the extent of my injury and said that after the pneumonia cleared from my lungs, they would operate to reconnect my skull to the top of my spine. They didn't know if the operation would be successful, or even if I could survive it. They had a plan, but it was extremely risky and they needed my consent. My wife Dana had insisted (over the objections of some of the family) that the doctors discuss everything with me and that nothing be done without my permission. I answered somewhat vaguely, "Okay, whatever you have to do." Ever since childhood, I'd been used to solving my problems. Whatever scrape I would get myself into, I was always sure of a way out. So at first I thought this was just another temporary problem. I needed surgery, but I'd be up and around before long. It was only after the doctors left that I began to absorb what they had told me: This is a paralyzing injury. Dana came into the room. We made eye contact. I mouthed my first lucid words to her: "Maybe we should let me go". She said, "I am only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want to do, because this is your life and your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what." Then she added the words that saved my life: "You're still you. And I love you." If she had looked away or paused or hesitated even slightly, or if I had felt there was a sense of her being noble, or fulfilling some obligation to me, I don't know if I could have pulled through. Because it had dawned on me that I had ruined my life and everybody else's. But what Dana said made living seem possible, because I felt the depth of her love and her commitment to me. (3)
This was written by Christopher Reeve, the actor who was paralyzed in a fall from a horse. His wife Dana's love for him was unconditional, just as Christ's love for us was unconditional. No matter what we may have done in our lives, no matter how many wrongs we may have committed, he will always welcome us back if we only have repentance.
We are called to obey the will of God by loving God and our neighbor. More than likely, we will not be called to be martyrs for our faith, as St. Valentine was. But we may be called to love unconditionally in the most difficult of circumstances, as Dana Reeve was. How ready, willing and able are we to make sacrifices for one another out of love? Will the love in our hearts lead to actions of love, or will the anger, resentments and bitterness possibly lead to words or actions which go against God's law of love?
As we prepare for the beginning of Lent in a few weeks, we need to look deep into our hearts and see where we need to change and where we need repentance. We need to ask ourselves if we are like the Scribes and the Pharisees who were only concerned with going through the motions, who were only concerned with external things. We must take a good, hard look at ourselves and determine what it is that is motivating our actions. Hopefully, we will come to obey God's law not only with our heads, but with our hearts. And after all, love is a matter of the heart as well as the heart of the matter.
1. From the Gospel of Matthew, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
2. Valentine. Short life of the saint. From God's Valentine by Alex Stevenson.
3. You're Still You from Still Me by Christopher Reeve. Copyright 1998 by Cambria Productions, Inc. Used with permission. Also included in Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul, copyright 1999 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Barbara De Angelis, Mark Donnelly and Crissy Donnelly. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.
(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Lord Jesus, you came to fulfill the law and the prophets. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you call us to be reconciled with one another. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you have taught us to keep your commands with all our heart. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Our Lord has called us to care for one another. Confident that Christ will intercede for us, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the leaders of the Church will show us how to follow Christ's commands by the way they live their lives, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to eliminate hunger, poverty and injustice, we pray to the Lord.
That the sick, the elderly, and the terminally ill may be eased of their suffering through the tender touch of their caregivers, we pray to the Lord.
That on this World Marriage Day, all married men and women will be strengthened in their vocations as spouses, mothers, fathers and grandparents, we pray to the Lord.
That all persecuted Christians will be strong in their faith and an example to non-believers, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Gracious Father, your Son has challenged us to follow the commandments that you have given to us. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to be reconciled with one another and thus fulfill the heart of your law which is love. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.