Once upon a time, a very wealthy man noticed that his children suddenly adopted the habit of leaving the house and coming back late at night. To stop this sprouting obnoxious attitude among his children, he instructed that nobody should for any reason at all come back to the house or leave the house after 6.00pm. To make the new law more effective, he instructed the security man at his gate not to open the gate for anyone who comes back or intends to leave the house after 6.00pm. He added that he would run the risk of losing his job if he dares break the law and the security man resolved to keep the law to the letters.
In subsequent days, the conscientious security man enforced the law with unrelenting commitment. In fact his boss was so pleased with the way and manner he enforced the law that he upgraded his pay. One fateful day the wealthy man travelled with his wife and children to his his aged parents. When it was time to go home his children were unwilling to go and requested that the stay for the weekend with their grandparents. The man agreed but recommended that his wife stays with them. By the time the visit was concluded it was very late; he was not used to coming back that late. His driver understood him very well and drove him home immediately.
On getting to his house he was surprised that the security man was not there to open the gate when his driver announced their arrival by means of the honking of the horn. When finally the security man showed up, he announced from inside that he was under instruction not to open the gate after 6.00pm and that he would not like to lose his job. The driver told him that he was with the man who gave him the instructions but he refused to open the gate. The owner of the house later alighted from the rear seat and called on him to open the gate but the man could not; in fact he said that the owner of the house cannot break the law he made. All efforts aimed at convincing the man to open the gate did not yield any positive result as he was not ready to lose his job. The man finally left to sleep in a hotel and coming back the next day he fired the security man for keeping him outside for a law he made to protect his children from keeping late nights.
Law is a system of rules and guidelines that regulate the actions of those for whom it is established. Without laws human life would be a hall of disorder. Even nature itself is regulated by some laws for instance Newton’s first law of motion (inertia) which states that “everything that goes up must come down”. The world is generally governed by laws. In the United States alone there are about 40,627 laws in the book as at the beginning of 2010. Essentially laws are made to bring about discipline and right ordering of persons and things they are addressed to. It is quite revealing that in most places some laws are “ridiculous” or “weird”. The following could make the list:
- In China it is illegal to have more than one child.
- In France it is illegal to call a pig Napoleon.
- In England, it is illegal to die in the House of Parliament.
- In Thailand it is illegal to drive without a shirt on.
- In Singapore it is against the law to chew gum except for a medical purpose.
- In Philippine you cannot use a car with plate number ending with number 1 or 2 on Mondays; 3 or 4 on Tuesdays; 5 or 6 on Wednesdays; 7 or 8 on Thursday; and 9 or 0 on Fridays.
- In Oklahoma United States it is illegal to leave tissue at the back of your car.
- In New York it is against the law to wear slippers after 10.00pm.
- After Jan 14th a person can be fined for having Christmas decorations still up in Maine USA.
- In Massachusetts it is against the law to go to bed without bathing.
- In North Dakota it is illegal to lie down and fall asleep with your shoes on.
Beyond all the laws; whether natural or human is the divine law. This has to do with God’s direct ordinances which are revealed to us in some ways like in the bible. The first reading of today (Sirach15:15-20) helps us so much in answering the question: “what is the main objective of the law? Ordinarily, human beings often conceive laws as militating against their freedom and choices. Right from our tender years, we detested laws and directives simply because they tended to run contrary to things we rather wanted to do. For instance we would rather had liked to play at the time we were asked to go to bed. We often failed to understand that the instruction was given so that we could wake up earlier and healthier.
Attentive to the above, Jesus ben Sirach in the first reading began by telling us that we have the ability to keep the commandments if we make a decision to do so. This decision according to him will function in saving and keeping us alive. In a more practical way he tells us that we have been presented with alternatives and the choice falls on us between: fire and water, life and death, good and evil. In the face of these alternatives, wisdom consists in making the right choice. This wisdom on the other hand is not what can be picked up randomly. According to St. Paul in the second reading (1 Cor.2:6-10), this wisdom is hidden for ages and can only be revealed to those who love God under the power of the His Spirit.
In the gospel of today (Matt. 5:17-37) we see our Lord Jesus Christ in a head-to-head dialogue with the law. He had been seen as running against the law just like the security man in our story thought of the wealthy owner of the house he worked. The gospel periscope provided us with Jesus’ attempt to let the people know that his relationship with the law and the prophets is all about fulfilment not abolition. The next question in the minds of his hearers could have been “how?” Considering the preceding instructions which included among other things paying good for evil against the mosaic tit for tat.
In the explanation that followed, our Lord Jesus Christ tried to tell them that there is something more than the letters of the law. Seen in another way, the law is not just about observance but also performance. It is not all about the letters of the law but also the spirit of the law. Observance is passive and uneventful while performance is active and involving. The letters of the law is narrow and redundant but the spirit of the law is all encompassing and creative. That was why he clearly indicated thus: (words in brackets are mine).
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness (observance of the law) exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, (becomes performance) you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt.5:20).
To make the above more concrete and practical our Lord brought out some of the leading laws:
- You shall not kill. From the point of view of observance and the letters of the law, one fulfils this by not physically laying hands on another person. But from its performance and spiritual understanding, our Lord indicated that killing can take other forms like anger, insults, curses and other forms of anti-social behaviour that sends emotional darts on others.
- You shall not commit adultery. From the point of view of observance and letters of the law, one fulfils this by keeping away physically from having extra marital sexual activity. However a deeper reading of this by our Lord Jesus Christ shows that beyond physical touch, the mind is capable of committing the same sin. Hence from the point of view of performance and spirit of the law, we are expected to keep both hands and mind away from the sin of adultery. Our Lord is at the same time saying that sin begins from the mind and the best way to curb sin is to start from watching the mind.
- Swearing vs speaking the truth. The truth is bitter whether said or heard. Because of this, people often prefer to swear. Swearing in accordance with the tradition of the people has to do with observance of the letters of the law. Speaking the truth on the other hand is performance of a worthwhile moral and spiritual activity.
As we launch into a new week, let us remember that observance of the law without performance will not make us better than the Pharisees. Furthermore, active advertence to the spirit of the law will help us to gain more divine appreciation and consistent with the prerequisites of wisdom let our choices be those that will put us aright with God. All the other laws and their enforcers will pass away but the divine laws will eternally remain as our witnesses!
Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.