Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

02-12-2023Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

A common theme often expressed in our culture is that we are all special and equal, but then we also add silently “Well, I am extra special.” We tend to like to have positive thoughts that we are egalitarian in principle and thought, but in fact by practice we often think we are either “special” or “exempt” from the responsibilities or rules of life which other people should observe. Our topics in the scripture this weekend are a further set of reflections upon the meaning of the Beatitudes in that we must consider the spirit and letter of the (holy) Law and also our personal freedom to choose.

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount; in total we have three Sundays when we have reflections upon the Great Sermon on the Mount. Jesus addressed the relationship between the current interpretation of the Law of Moses and His own. Note that Jesus says that He has come to fulfill, not abolish the holy Law. Jesus made it very clear by means of saying “You have heard….” With His saying “But I say…” The balancing of thoughts is to help us understand that Jesus is aiming for our hearts and spirits. He is concerned about the spirit of the Law, not the legal definition. Jesus is telling us not only to avoid serious wrong doing, but He is also telling us we must avoid even the thoughts and desires to do wrong. He is also doing away with the legalism that allows bad things to happen simply because they are “legal”. As a practical matter, He does not allow loopholes for doing wrong, whether for marriage or for telling the truth, or for that matter for anything in life. 

Jesus’ condemnation of those who fail to fulfill the holy Law is fast and furious. He was angry and His words were plain and sharp. From all this we can conclude that Jesus cared a lot about the spirit and the letter of the holy Law. His listeners and followers were to follow all of the Law and Spirit. He told them that the little ones, children, observe them and that their grown-up future lives depend on adults having integrity and maturity. To actually betray the little ones by example is a terrible failure of a person. Indeed, to betray these little ones is to fail miserably.

Jesus has great disdain and contempt for those who are knowledgeable in the holy Law and who use their power and wisdom to subvert the holy Law which Jesus actually held in high regard. Jesus acknowledged that those who hold power in the Law often place on people unnecessary burdens. Note that the anger of Jesus is not directed at the struggling ones, but the religious Scribes and Pharisees. In the letter this weekend from Saint Paul he also talked about the high and mighty religious and pious who profess a practice of faith that is distinct from regular people. He reminded everyone that God exalts the wisdom of the smallest, not the most pious.

This weekend scripture is to remind us that our faith and religious practice must come from our hearts. If we simply follow the rules or what is expected without an interior feeling of faith, our gestures are empty and meaningless. If we have living faith in our heart, then our mind and actions will follow accordingly.