The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 2:6-10
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 5:17-37
One of the great heresies, one that I was taught in grade school, and I’m sure that I’m not alone, is the belief that the God of the Old Testament is mean and can’t wait to catch people breaking His law so He can punish them. Meanwhile, the God of the New Testament is nice and is so filled with love that He would never even think of bringing down the hammer on an immoral person.
The belief that the Old Testament God is like the teacher in Pink Floyd’s The Wall (“If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!”) and that the New Testament God is like a half-witted grandfather (“Did everyone have a good time? Let’s go get some ice cream.”) ignores the actual Old and New Testaments.
Jesus, in His own words, tells us that He came to fulfill not only the prophets but also the law – those commandments that reveal the ‘mean’ side of God. All those ‘thou shalt not’ requirements – requirements that keep us from leading the kind of lives that Madison Avenue and Wall Street promise will make us happy – seem so out of date and passé in a world focused on self-fulfillment.
Not only does He keep the law in place, but He gets rid of the loopholes. “You shall not kill,” “you shall not commit adultery,” and “you shall not take a false oath” all seemed reasonable enough, but Jesus goes beyond that, way beyond even what the Pharisees would have demanded.
The loophole of wrath is no longer there for those who want to kill their brother with words rather than a sword. The loophole of lust is now closed to the “it’s not a sin to look” crowd. And the loophole of pride is no longer available to those who need to speak as if their words came from the mouth of God.
Maybe that’s why Jesus invoked the Pharisees and proposed that to enter the Kingdom, we need to be more righteous than those who follow the letter of the law, yet are always on the lookout for ways around it. The new law of love is actually more demanding than the old law, where people simply need to follow the rules.
Today, some communities live a more demanding lifestyle than the rest of us, who follow the letter of the law but aren’t looking for any way around it. These groups often distinguish themselves by their customs, clothing, and personal appearance, and the Amish and the Hasidic communities come quickly to mind. In each case, the goal of these groups is to live a life of uncompromising righteousness that goes above and beyond the norm by separating themselves from a world that they find full of temptations and pitfalls.
At first glance, this approach might seem appealing, but as Catholics, we don’t have the option to turn our backs on the world, create communities that set themselves apart and eschew contact with the culture around us. Rather, we are called to baptize the culture and to help make all things new in Christ. This weekend’s Gospel lays out the blueprint for that to happen. Here Jesus calls us all to be more righteous than the Pharisees, but for most of us, we first need to become more righteous than the secular culture in which we live.