Gospel Reflection for Feb. 16, 2020

There are big picture people and there are small picture people. Some of us look at and consider the minutiae while missing the broader contexts, and others of us are so swept up into the whole that we forget what comprises it. It can be very difficult to appreciate the perspective of the other when we see our own bias as the sine qua non of the conversation.

This is not new to our time; it is inherent in our human nature. This is especially true when considering law. Speed limit laws are a good example. Some will drive just under the limit in order to avoid exceeding the limit, while others will drive just at the limit carefully obeying the law. There are those who give themselves some leeway over the limit heeding an urban myth that there is a variable where one won’t get pulled over. Others drive with little regard for posted limits.

Jesus stepped into this fray as he addressed the crowd. Often critical of the exacting observance of the Law characteristic of the Pharisees, Jesus both supports and upends this view of the Law. On the one hand Jesus stands with the Pharisees by saying that: “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” On the other, he greatly expands the nature of Law by taking us beyond the mere letter of the law to a call to righteousness.

Righteousness refers to the proper interpretation of and in following the Laws of Moses as Jesus instructs. Righteousness, or justification, is achieved through the Paschal Mystery. As disciples of Jesus, we share in the righteousness he has merited for us as we follow the Law as he lays it down for us.

Jesus addresses not merely the observance of Law but the underlying attitude one has toward the Law. It is very easy to obey laws but to do so in a defiant manner. Just because one observes the letter of the law we cannot automatically presume that he or she is righteous or upstanding. This attitude of defiant obedience can often be observed in young children. In a sense they can mock the law by observing it to the exact letter.

The attitude that one takes toward law in general clearly impacts how one observes the law in specifics. If one holds libertarian view, then law is disregarded on principle. When one has the attitude that law is restrictive, then their approach to law – especially those they find most restrictive – is begrudging at the outset. Then in their failure they are furtive regarding their actions and often judgmental of others who fail. It is only when one discovers and understands the beauty of the law in itself and realizes that observance of law can be liberating and not restrictive that true growth can take place.

The challenge that Jesus places before his disciples is to strip the law to its deepest meaning. It is not enough to obey the law – even joyfully – if that is all there is. While Jesus wants to draw from a mere focus on the Law to interiority, Jesus has also instructed the crowd on matters of the Law by saying: “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.”

In a way, Jesus is preparing the crowds for the completion of the requirements of the Law through the Paschal Mystery. In his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus removes the demands of the Law through his completion of the Law. So while we no longer follow the Laws of the Old Testament, we live the spirit of those Laws through the law of faith and the demands of discipleship as set forth by Jesus and through the tradition of the Church.

So, Jesus instructs us to follow the Law, but then also fulfills the Law through the Paschal events. Hence, we no longer follow the Old Law as it has been expanded and fulfilled in Jesus.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.