Monday, February 10, 2014

The New Torah

mt 5:17-37

This weeks gospel focuses on the relationship between the old and new testament. Jesus starts by saying He didn't come to abolish the law or the prophets. Then He goes on to announce a bunch of changes. It is a huge claim of authority. He is saying He knows God's word better than Moses or Elijah or anyone is the Jewish tradition. Yes, they heard from God but what I am going to give you is a deeper and fuller word from God. They are holy but I am holier.

In fact, in Pope Benedict's first Jesus of Nazareth book he quotes a Jew who claims he would have liked much of Jesus' teaching but would have stormed out in protest at this point. Nobody should put himself above the Torah. Only God is above the Torah. Is He claiming to be God? Certainly He is flirting with that idea.

What Jesus does here is also what the church does. She claims the right to be able to definitely develop doctrine. Not to abolish any of it but to clarify it and to give a deeper and fuller understanding of it. It is quite a claim. It would not be possible if the church was not led by the Holy Spirit into all truth like Jesus promised. Only God can clarify God's word so Jesus and the church are both claiming to be God's instrument on earth in a special way.

The substance of Jesus' development is consistently to raise the bar of what humans are called to. He does quite the opposite of what the church is always being advised to do by modern society. People think we should have fewer rules, be more accepting of behavior that has been traditionally labeled evil, have more realistic expectations, don't condemn so man things so strongly, etc.

Jesus goes the opposite direction. The good news that he brings is that we are now able to be better. We have more grace. We have a closer relationship with God available to us. We have a greater understanding of God's love. That will enable us to be holier. So Jesus does not lower the expectations. He raises them. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required. 

So what is this much that is required of us? He takes the commands and looks at the vice behind them. He looks at murder and says just not killing is not enough. The real issue is anger. You kill because you harbor anger towards your brother. Get rid of the anger. It can cost you your soul even if you refrain from violence. 

When should you deal with your anger. Before you come to the altar to offer a sacrifice. In modern language, before mass. We know that if we have serious sin that need to be confessed before God that we should do so before taking communion. The same is true about serious issues with other people. We need to make things right. We need to do it regularly. 

Anger will happen but the really serious issues come up when we let it drag out. Then it becomes a grudge. It can make us bitter. St Paul says don't let the sun go down on your anger. Jesus is saying don't go to mass angry. It basically means we deal with it. We pray. We talk it out. We remind ourselves of how much God lives the person we are angry at. We think about how many things we have been forgiven for. 

Then Jesus moves on to adultery. The same principle applies. The act itself is not the focus. The lust is the issue. This is getting long so I will dispense with the lust talk for now. It is interesting that between the topics of lust and the topic of keeping your word is the matter of divorce. He says looking at a woman lustfully is adultery in your heart. Then he says divorce and remarriage is adultery not just in your heart but in deed. Why? Because you gave your word. There are many things wrong with divorce but a key one is breaking your promise. Jesus goes further. Never speak falsely whether you are under oath or not. Again raising the bar and demanding more.

John Paul II had an interesting point. He was reflecting on verse 20, "Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." He said something that applies to all of this. When God gives us a command He always gives us the grace to be able to keep it. He never makes impossible demands. He asks a lot but He gives a lot too. When He does not seem to give enough we need to beg for more. We need to do penance and really want to change. Still the fact that the command is there should make us confident the grace to keep it is available to us. We can overcome anger. We can overcome lust. We can overcome deceit. We need to want it bad enough to be willing to sacrifice for it but the good news is we are not helpless.

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