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KEEPING THE LAW IS NOT ENOUGH!

Father Francis's picture
Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Mt. 5:20-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37

Every society has its laws. We may not like them - but they are absolutely necessary. Try to imagine a modern city without laws to regulate the flow of traffic. No one would be safe on the streets!

Suppose our tax system was based entirely on voluntary donations. The government would surely cease to operate for lack of funds, and those depending on Social Security would be left destitute.

However much we may dislike laws, they are essential to our very existence. This is not to say that all laws passed by governments are always right. Take for example the 1967 Abortion Act in the UK - it is immoral because it is against God’s law that “Thou shalt not kill.” Abortion is the murder of an unborn person.

The same is true of so-called civil marriages of one man to another, or of one woman to another, because they, too, are against God’s law which intended marriage to be between one man and one woman.

Sadly, these are not the only laws which our country have that are clearly wrong, because they are not following God’s law. We cannot live without some laws, but neither can we live with many of them unless they are constantly revised and corrected.

Let us suppose, for the sake of discussion, that all laws were fair and just. Let us also suppose that all people lived by them. What kind of society would that produce? It would surely be better than the one we have now! The world would be a safer place and all the crime statistics would take a dramatic plunge, to just mention the most obvious benefits. But there is still more that could be done to make us happier and better people.

Laws can forbid you to shoot your neighbours, but cannot require you to weep with them when their hearts are broken. The law can prohibit the physical abuse of your children, but it cannot require you to get down on the floor and play with them. The law can forbid you from stealing groceries, but it cannot compel you to take a basket of food to a poor family.

Jesus said, "Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of God." That was a strong statement. He was talking about some of the best people in society. They were honest and law-abiding citizens. Their total commitment was to live by the rules. A community made up of such people would be virtually free of crime, but that would not necessarily make it a good place to live if it lacked a spirit of warmth and generosity. For Jesus just keeping the law was simply not enough. He wanted more.

Jesus began by citing the commandment that prohibits murder. It is the bottom line of all human decency. The very least that I can do for you and you for me is to allow each other to live. I have no right to take your life, and you have no right to take mine. This is the fundamental law of every society but Jesus did not leave it there.

He traced the sin of murder to its source – showing disrespect and anger to your neighbour. In His system of values, this is where we have to take control of ourselves, for if we don’t such behaviour can lead to murder. We have all been treated disrespectfully or in anger – causing us to feel anger, embarrassment, fear and being unloved.

Such experiences should remind us that there is more than one way to ‘kill’ people. We can do it with words and attitudes as surely as with guns and knives. No law can ever be passed that will prohibit disrespect and contempt for our fellow human beings. We must impose that restriction upon ourselves. For Jesus just keeping the law was not enough.

Next, Jesus cited the law that prohibits adultery. It was given to protect the sanctity of the home. It can be kept by abstaining from sexual union outside of the marriage bond, but Jesus did not leave it there. He insisted the commandment include lustful thought and desire. “If you so much as look at another woman to lust after her you have committed adultery with her in your heart.” The wrong is that they reduce people to the level of objects, just things to be used. Every person is far too sacred ever to be regarded in such a shoddy way.

Jesus wants us not to confine ourselves purely to the letter of the law, but to enrich our lives with the spirit which brings life and love. "Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of God." Just obeying the rules will not take us there; it has its limitations. Keeping the law is not enough. Keeping the spirit of the law is what matters.

Lord Jesus, help us to keep all Your Father’s commandments and strive to please You by observing not just the letter of the law but its spirit as You have taught us.

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