February 16, 2020: The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
In our Gospel this weekend, we continue to hear Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. In the midst of this sermon, Jesus gives us unique insight into the Ten Commandments. While we may be familiar with the fact that God gave Moses the Decalogue (“ten words”) after they had been rescued from Egyptian slavery, we are perhaps not as familiar that Jesus’ mountain preaching is an inspired commentary on the twin tablets. With clarity and profundity, Jesus unpacks the heart of the Torah that the Commandments articulate in three essential ways.
First, Jesus reveals that the 10 commandments are not simple precepts to follow but principles for living well. Because of this, the commandments are timeless. They are not just a list of do’s and don’ts that God gives the people as a test of their fidelity, rather the Law itself is a guide towards human happiness. For this reason, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Happiness is the fruit of living in accord with the human nature God gave us. When we act in accord with this given nature, then we are happy. Jesus is the fulfilment of the law because he assumes our human nature and shows us how to live by word and example.
Second, the 10 commandments are not just about rules to follow but about forming a relationship. When we think about Commandments, we often reduce them to a set of arbitrary rules. But God gave Moses the 10 Commandments in order to establish a relationship with his people. The Torah forms identity. When they were slaves in Egypt, Jacob’s descendants were a motley crew without purpose or direction, simply striving to survive. Israel is transformed into God’s Chosen People precisely at the moment when God revealed something about Himself to them in His Law. The Commandments represent the way in which Israel can affirmatively respond to God. This is why Jesus challenges His mountainside congregation to go beyond the letter of Law. He “rewrites” the commandments with his famous rabbinic ‘you have heard it said… but I say to you’ sayings. Jesus wants them to consider the intention of the Lawgiver and thereby reconnect with the relationship at the heart of the Torah. Jesus says: “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 his brother will be liable to judgment.” Jesus creates a deeper dimension to the Commandments. It’s not enough not to kill, one must not be angry. Jesus refashions the Commandments in order to foster a more intimate relationship with himself as the Lawgiver.
Third, the 10 commandments help us aim beyond prohibitions towards real virtue. Since most of the Commandments begin with “Thou Shall Not,” it is easy to consider them to be simple prohibitions against harming others. In His Sermon, Jesus makes it clear that they are meant to aim higher. In fact, the goal of the commandment is to cultivate virtue. Jesus gives the example of the 5th Commandment: Thou Shall Not kill. He says that not only are we not to take the life of another, but we should not let anger consume us. Rather than stewing in anger and resentment, we are prompted to forgiveness: “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.” The point of the 5th commandment goes beyond a prohibition to kill toward the goal of being a peacemaker. In this way it becomes clear that the Beatitudes (which come immediately before this passage) are meant to be Jesus’ rearticulating of the Commandments. This week, let us not simply hear these words of Jesus, but let us act upon them. May Jesus’ Commandments help us live well by reconnecting to that relationship of God’s love. Let us aim higher. Let us go beyond avoiding harm to grow in real virtue.
~ Fr. Michael