One of the great teachings of St. Paul is that the days of the Jewish Law are gone. Prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Jews followed the law and their faithfulness to the law was their measurement of closeness to God.
This was the great dispute between the pharisees and Jesus. They would cite the law and Jesus would show that their faithfulness was essentially heartless. So the pharisees complained that according to the law, Jesus’ healing of a sick person was forbidden. Jesus cited compassion in fulfilling the law and said that a heartless version of it was actually what was forbidden.
In an ironic twist, the heartless version of the law was used to execute Jesus, but that action also destroyed heartlessness in all its forms.
Always keep in mind that the devil is the most legalistic of creatures. He is the heartless version of the law and if you want to see the Devil at work, look at where the law of God is enforced to the letter without heart.
With the death and resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the law is written on our hearts. What this means is that a new version of the law is brought to us, but this version is everything the old version is, at its foundation, but then God’s grace builds upon it.
Therefore, all sinners are condemned by the old law and no one is saved. However, with Jesus’ death and resurrection, sinners are still condemned by the law but the compassionate judge offers forgiveness to those who repent and seek him. So they are guilty, but the punishment is waived. No law can undermine that reality.
A great teaching of the saints is that the law in all its fierce force falls upon the unrepentant, obstinate sinner. But God’s mercy and friendship embraces the repentant and sorrowful sinner.
The person who seeks to love God and finds his sinfulness is in the way, but still tries, will experience the fullness of God’s love. The one who embraces him or herself as their own god will experience the fullness of God’s wrath in the letter of the law, because the person rejects God’s authority and, therefore, his/her place in His Kingdom.
This brings us to today’s Gospel, where we see the letter of the law and the compassion built upon it.
Here is where it hits us directly. At a recent parish meeting, it was brought up how in the old days there was the image of God as the deity you feared. My father also used to talk about this. I always describe this as the holographic Wizard of Oz from the movie, this angry demanding god who demanded total obedience and extreme punishment for disobedience. This figure is more closely tied to the demonic than to reality. But Jesus makes it clear that every law is still on the books so what is the difference and how does that difference play itself out in our life today.
Let’s take the law on marriage. You may remember or have heard of the old days when the priest would scream from the altar to married couples, you stay together. He was speaking the law and the law of marriage in the Church is that couples must stay together in good times and in bad, etc.
Now outside the Church in the world around us you have people saying the opposite, that if you want to leave a marriage for whatever reason, you can but that is not Church teaching, except as Jesus says, special cases. So now we live in a time where there is divorce in society and people are calling the Catholic Church to be open to it. First, what the Church forbids is divorce and remarriage because a civil marriage is not sacramental. So in the Church’s eyes a person is married to person A sacramentally and married civilly to person B. In the Church’s perspective that would be like being married to person A in Massachusetts and person B in Canada.
But what is it in light of what Jesus says. Is there a difference? Yes, there is. This is why the sacramental marriage over the civil marriage is so important.
In a Sacramental marriage if we do not understand it we will hear the old time priest saying “You stay together, no matter what!!” But the way it is supposed to work is when that does not seem possible then we understand that the sacrament is a covenant with the bride and groom and the Lord. If difficult times come, they must go to the Lord and say to Him “Hey Lord you are part of this covenant, you need to make it work, because right now it ain’t.”
By the way, difficult times will come because they are in every marriage.
You see the difference? It is not: “This is the rule.” It is also not: “The rule does not apply anymore.” It is “This is the rule, but it is a covenant with You, Oh Lord, and now we speak to you and ask your intervention in our struggle.” In time you will see that prayer answered, especially if both parties in the married couple pray together.
Remember, because it is a sacramental marriage, it is part of the witness and part of the mission of the Church. As it is part of the mission, it is not something that God says “Do this or else.”
It is where God says, “we are all in this together let’s build up this marriage and, if need be, fix what needs to be fixed; heal what needs to be healed.” This is what Jesus is talking about.
It is to take the rule and add Christ to it. That is the essential part. In a civil marriage or two people living together, that dimension does not exist.
This is also why the Church has its rule of restricting communion for the civilly married including the divorced and civilly remarried, it is not only part of the witness, but it is a call to get the people to bring this issue to the Lord and demand that he fix what needs to be fixed in their marriage so that they can experience the full communion with Christ and His Church.
Fr. Carr is member of the Segundo Elo of the Canção Nova Community. He is the pastor of Holy Trinity Quincy, MA and is the editor of this blog. He is the author of several books, blogs and hundreds of videos all of which you may find on Youtube. You can follow him on twitter as @frbobcarr and on Google plus as+FrRobertCarr, his website is Carrbooks.us Thoughts, comments on the homily? Let us know at Facebook