3rd Week of Lent, Wednesday,
Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9 / Matthew 5:17-19
Jesus instructs his disciples: ' 'Whoever teaches others the law is great. "
Clara Feldman is one of the Jews who survived the Nazi Holocaust during World War Il.Today she goes from school to school in New York City to teach students about what happened to Jews in Germany during the war. Clara also applies the lessons of the Holocaust to our modern world. She makes it clear to the students that they cannot remain silent about the violation of human rights in South Africa, Russia, or wherever it occurs.
Have we accepted our responsibility to teach the young about what is right and what is wrong? "There is actually one thing worse than evil itself, and that is indifference to evil." Joseph Fletcher
What is the meaning of the commandments to us? To some, they are the summary and summit of all morality; to others, narrow and outmoded rules; still to others, obstacles to the freedom of the gospel.
To Israel, they were the expression of fidelity to God and to the whole people as part of God’s covenant. They were the road to freedom from all forms of slavery: to other gods, to selfishness, to exploitation of one person by another. They were the sign of belonging to God and God’s nearness. And they were witnesses that love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated.
In Christ, all this is fulfilled, and more. The commandments remain, but they become a basic step not to salvation by observances but to seeking communion with God in Christ and communion with our neighbor, and they are animated by love.
We all realize that the purpose behind traffic laws is to provide for the safety of both motorists and pedestrians. Merely sticking to the letter of the law, however, can get you into trouble. For example, say someone runs through a stop sign when you have the right of way. The law is, strictly speaking, on your side, but insisting on your right of way at that moment may well be the way to an accident, perhaps even death itself. The spirit behind the law, not to mention common sense, would demand that you stop.
This illustration is close to the idea our Lord had in mind in today's gospel. He said that he had not come to abolish the law found in the Old Testament. That law was an expression of God's will for people, but because it was necessarily put in human words it was an imperfect expression of God's will. The spirit behind the law is what counts, and that spirit is found in the love of God and the neighbor. Jesus fulfilled the law first by his more complete teaching on love, and secondly by his own supreme example of love. It is his teaching and example that Jesus wants us to follow, and not merely the letter of the law.
For instance, no law requires that you be present at Mass on weekdays during Lent. But in the celebration of these Masses you are certainly fulfilling the spirit behind the command that we love God and pray to him. You won't find any explicit law which says that if your neighbor down the block has just come home from the hospital you must go and find out what help you can be, but taking the initiative in a case like that is in accord with the spirit of the law.
Do you remember not long ago when there were as many ads on television against smoking as there were commercials pushing different brands of cigarettes? One episode showed a father walking down a country road with his young son. Everything the father did the little boy imitated: throwing a rock, admiring a bird, and stretching in the marvelous sunshine. Then the father sat by a tree and his son did the same. The punch of the ad came as the father took a cigarette, lay the pack on the ground, and the little boy slowly reached for the pack.
What we do, the way we live, the example we set, all influence others, adults as well as children. We would probably be amazed if we were to know how much we do affect others. Jesus says in today's gospel, "Whoever breaks the least significant of these commands and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the of God." What a terrible thing it would be deliberately to teach evil to others. We hope and pray that we will never become so perverse. But we teach others not only by our words but also by our example. As a matter of fact, we recognize, at least in theory, that "actions speak louder than words.”
Prayer: Lord our God, you have given us your commandments to set us on the road of freedom from all forms of alienation. May we learn to obey them not to save ourselves by observances nor to do you favors, but to be free for you and for people and to live in your love, with Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord. Amen