Matthew chapter 5, 27-30, gives a very poignant example of an issue that has plagued my thoughts for many years. “If I look at a woman with lust what kind of person am I since it is not easy to control some thoughts as a man when I know what I am supposed to do when impure thoughts enter my mind”. Am I this corrupt that, heaven forbid, I should abuse my body or am I like other humans wherein I need a lot of Grace from God to control my appetites and seek a lot of forgiveness?
Well, this whole scenario creates a wide open process of thought and discernment as to what Jesus was actually referring to when confronting the Pharisees and Scribes. We were taught, during diaconal formation, that when preparing to preach or even teach, using Sacred Scripture, to read the verses before and after the text being used to get a feel or understanding of the content in a more broad sense and relationship to the theme at hand.
Let’s set the stage for the teaching here and put ourselves in that place and become the recipients of Jesus’ words. “I never do this or that and always adhere to the strictest teaching of the Law of Moses”. “Why should I not believe since I am a teacher of the Law and promote that sense to everyone else.” The thoughts of some people today would even fall into that category many of whom just following the strictest laws feel they have placed themselves within the dictates of legal precedents and can therefore preach to those who do not agree with their strict philosophy of legal adherence.
Take a moment to digest the preceding paragraph and then place yourself at the feet of Jesus, his teaching, and the ominous thinking in the realm of today’s society. Perhaps to critique this thought should include the consequence of strict adherence to any law without first realizing what your ultimate condition will be, both spiritually and psychologically, once the essence of lawful observance takes effect on your own emotional status.
When a person decides to follow any law to the letter they must know that one slip or fall from its rules requires some sort of punishment, be it civil or moral, can create a whole new outlook and knowledge of disobedience and expectation of being put away or ostracized.
Once this process begins to take place within a person’s thinking a different solution will be sought and hopefully the only purposeful result is to seek God’s help and find what Jesus was speaking about.
I certainly am not the first person in ministry to write about this question and join with many of them in bringing the strong teaching of living by the promptings of the Holy Spirit and see how Jesus wanted his hearers to know that no man can live by the law and adhere to its dictates without failing in some way to fall beneath the pain of sin. Even the just man falls daily and is in need of God’s Mercy not His Judgement.
Jesus presented one very powerful and positive message to those whom he taught; His Father wants each person to be saved and reaches out continuously to seek the lost souls and give them forgiveness. See Luke’s story of the Prodigal Son; the poem of the Hound of Heaven, and so many more writings regarding God’s endless Mercy. Pope Francis called this year the year of Mercy. How can anyone deny that not the law but the spirit is the path to seek out.
Yes, the pronouncements of this gospel section are very powerful and they alone can be convicting on anyone who reads them. But, reading beyond their literal thought will become a pattern to find the mercy of God, presented by Jesus throughout the Good News in so many parables and examples of how much our Heavenly Father loves us and the endless manner Jesus portrays in reaching out with that Mercy to his followers, and ultimately the Church’s endless teaching.