Religion hanging by a thread – 6th Sunday in Ordinary time – Matthew 5:17-37
For four hundred years before the coming of Jesus, the prophetic voice of God was silent. In the time from the prophet Malachi to John the Baptist there arose among the Jewish religious leadership groups people who desired to be devoted to God. When called a Pharisee today, the only connotation that conjures in your mind is that of a hypocrite. This was not the case when these religious men ‘separated themselves’ (that’s what Pharisee means) in order to devote their lives in greater fidelity to the law of God. In time however they lost the plot.
By the time of Jesus, the Mosaic law had taken on several interpretations. These oral laws and traditions had more restrictions than prescriptions. The love of God was replaced by rigidity to these many traditions and oral teachings. The Mishnah, a collection of oral laws supplementing scriptural laws, listed 39 primary kinds of labour that were not allowed on the Sabbath day. God on the contrary had just one law, ‘Keep it holy.’ The rest, was interpretation and more interpretation.
Sadly, tradition seems to have more of a sway on us than the core element of the faith. Who places the crown on our blessed mother and how it is placed and when it is placed seems to take more precedence than the example of faith that should have been imbibed. It is for this reason that Matthew lists six hyper theses in rapid successions in the Gospel of today.
What is the point that Jesus wants to make? The Pharisees had wrapped the law in a series of demands that left religion hanging by a thread; more thread and less religion. Religion had become a set of rules governed by human traditions. What was inconvenient was altered and what could be ceremonialized was amplified. it was the mind of Jesus to rectify the inadequate interpretation of the law as interpreted by the Scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to deepen it and so, for example, while He does not diminish the law on homicide, He went beyond it. Jesus wants His disciples to go beyond the law of the Old Testament by deepening and radicalizing it to the original will of God. However, He never moves them in a lax direction; rather Jesus moves us to more, and hence they are called hyper-theses. This is why, six times he says, “You have heard it said to you but I say to you.”
Today, Jesus wants us to challenge ourselves not just to live the traditions of popular faith but to live in faith. He wants us to realise that it is not the gift we give him at Mass but the condition of our heart that is more important to him. He wants those we hate to be placed not our hit list but on our prayer list. He wants us to be holy in what we choose to see, to guard our eyes, our lips and our hearts.
Perhaps we may have settled in and settled down thinking that we are good in God’s eyes. I have news for you. Good is not good enough for the GREAT and MIGHTY God we serve.