Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

February 16th, 2020

Deacon Blaine Barclay

The readings today could be summarized with a question. What is the relationship between the Law and the Gospel? The Torah and its fulfillment in the good news of the person and mission of Jesus.

To begin with our Psalm from today. Psalm 119 is what’s called ‘a Torah Psalm, a Psalm in praise of God’s Law, of how it instructs us and lights our way. A path that would be otherwise dark and foreboding, a labyrinthine way. The role of God’s law in our life is pedagogical, it teaches us what we need to do in order to live a good and holy life. A good way into the meaning of the Law, the Torah, in our spiritual life would be to spend some time prayerfully reading the whole of some 119, all 176 verses, it is the longest Psalm in the bible. And my favourite Psalm. We could begin with a verse from the excerpt from today’s liturgy. “Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your Law”.”

St.Thomas Aquinas puts it this way. ‘The Law is a guide to Prudence’, it illuminates what is to be done, and what is to be avoided in our concrete choices. It can be summarized as ‘good is to be done, evil is to be avoided’, this is the basic principle of the moral life.

Our first reading from Ben Sira, the author of the book of Sirach, puts it this way. “Before each person are life and death, good and evil, and whichever one chooses, that shall be given”; and again, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments”. Or, as Jesus says to the young scholar of the law, “if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments”, with the addition of course, “come follow me”.

Clearly, Jesus did not come to ‘abolish’ the Law, but to fulfill it. To radicalize our relationship with the revealed moral law, to move it from mere outward formal observance, to an interior operating principle, an expression of how God has transformed us in Christ.  A goodness that flows from the heart. We know that we cannot construct our own righteousness before God, we cannot morally earn God’s love. That would be Law, without Gospel, without the good news of God’s ever prior love for us. Law without its fulfillment in Jesus.

This going beyond the Law, without abolishing it, is captured quite well in the rhythm of our gospel today. It goes back and forth, back and forth, between “You have heard that it was said”, to “But I say to you”. Again and again Jesus radically extends the depth of the conversion of heart that the Law points toward. “You shall not kill” is radicalized into, “do not be angry with your brother or sister”. “Do not commit adultery” is radicalized into  “do not look at another person with lust”. Our actions flow from our hearts, what is needed is a transformed heart, a radical conversion of heart, only then is the pedagogy of the Law fulfilled.

Repentance, the transformed heart, the call to Discipleship and our response is a gift of grace. We move from “keep the Commandments”, to “come follow me”. We move from “you have heard that it was said” to “But I say to you”, we move from “Law” to “Gospel”. Or as St. Paul tells us today, we move from what is on the surface, to “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden”. We move from a life merely under the law, to life in the Spirit, that searches the depth of the Love of God. The Holy Spirit will empower us and open us up to the infinite horizon of “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”.