In today’s first reading, Sirach speaks to the challenge of following the law: all we must do is choose to follow. Wouldn’t it be great if it were that simple? I am reminded of someone whose solution to any problem is to say, “all you have to do is” with no regard for the big picture. There is never an offer of a solution for the problem. Most of us know life is not that simple. There are difficulties that arise due to the very nature of our humanity. When I hear the comment “all you have to do is ... ” I respond with a blank stare, not out of disrespect, but because there is nothing I could say that would make a difference. Instead, I have already moved to a problem-solving mode. Often I wonder if that is how Jesus felt on occasion.
Jesus knew that there is more to following the law in one’s life. In the Gospel of Matthew, he recognizes that understanding the law needs to be developed more fully. His followers are restless and questioning. He wants them to have the wisdom to appreciate the law on a deeper level. Where does the desire to kill come from? Where does it start? It starts with lust, anger, name-calling, bullying, acting without love or mercy. Right relationship is derailed when there is no clear understanding of these things. Like a pebble dropped in a pond the concentric circles radiate from the center. Everything around the center (the law) is affected by the wave of each circle as it radiates outward. The law is not simple but instead is layered with life, humanity and the culture of the times. Choices are not made in a vacuum but instead are made in relationship.
Jesus came to fulfill the law — a law that must be perpetually deepened with growing wisdom of the time. The work of fulfilling the law is in unceasing evolution. How different that looks today in a culture that is driven by media and technology. The task of applying new wisdom gained over time in a culture that is becoming more and more diverse with new temptations, disguised as normal, requires resourcefulness. Nothing is static and must always be open to new interpretation and relevance.
Did Jesus really mean “pluck out your eye” or did he mean divert your eyes when you know your gaze is not respectful? Did he really mean “cut off your hand” or did he mean think about what that hand is capable of? Jesus asks that we not let the laws become stumbling blocks but instead be a foundation for growth. Don’t go to the altar without taking responsibility for your actions. Bring to fruition the steps that bring forth wholeness from brokenness.
The struggle with keeping the law should be taken seriously because it is the foundation of right relationship. Using that struggle helps to integrate morality and ethics into our daily lives and to build up the kingdom of God. Keeping the law is the work of mercy and love that heals. As the psalmist cries out: “Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law.” The law which manifests the basic values in an ever-changing world invites us to enter into the mystery. Consider the chaos without the continual fulfillment of the laws.