The Gospel of today emphasizes Jesus’ position on the Law. For Jesus, there is nothing wrong with the Law and there is nothing wrong in obeying the Law either. This is why he says “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the law…” (Matt 5:17-18). What then is he talking about in today’s Gospel? Why is he against the Pharisees and Scribes – the careful law observant Jews?
No doubt Jesus was a law abiding Jew. He went to the synagogue every Sabbath and was involved in the Jewish ceremonies. However, there is much in Jesus’ teaching that is new about the law and its observances. He introduced a new way of thinking. Though the Scribes and the Pharisees observed the Law and the Commandments very meticulously, they paid less attention to the spirit of the law which supposes to be the foundation of the Law. They lived out the law mechanically. They looked at outward acts, neglecting the inward. This made them to see themselves as self-righteous and anyone who does not rigorously obey the law is already condemned and has no place in God’s heart.
However, Jesus wants us to go far beyond the literal requirements of the law. He wants us to go beyond the letters of the law and think more of the spirit of the law. Thus, “if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). For Jesus, just to keep the Law externally and literally is not enough. To keep the Law without love is like having a body without a soul. . To be a disciple of Christ, the foundation of our lives must go deeper – to a mutual love. Any law that is without love is enslavement. But Jesus does not want us to be enslaved in any way.
Also, obeying the law mechanically entails fear but Jesus does not want us to observe the law out of fear rather out of love that is deeply rooted in a conviction that is accompanied by freedom. That is why the first reading from Ecclesiasticus talks about freedom of choice and responsibility. When we carry out our Christian responsibility with freedom, it makes a lot more difference.
From Deacon Nicholas