Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Least in the Kingdom

Just a bit of spiritual reflection on the readings for the Wednesday lectionary.

There we read from Matt 5:17-19 (I pulled the following from the wesbite of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops--sorry that it is the New American Bible translation!):

"Jesus said to his disciples:“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law,until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Aside from questions about justification, let me just address a more basic issue that this passage raises. If one breaks one of the least of these commandments they are considered least in the Kingdom of heaven. But what if someone relaxes one of the ordinary commandments?

Up front let me say that I don't know exactly which commandments Jesus is referring to by those that are least--but he does seem to say that the one who "obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."

I think the lesson here isn't that we should seek to categorize the commandments--Jesus doesn't go on to do that after all. That kind of legalism misses what Jesus is getting at. I think the point here is that we cannot simply dismiss certain commandments as being of "lesser" importance.

That is the danger--rationalizing sin and seeking to justify our actions. Telling myself, "I don't
need to change this particular attitude or behavior because it's really not seriously sinful"--that would not have cut it for Jesus. That distinction between sin that is "mortal" and sin that is "not mortal" (1 John 5:17) does not grant license. In fact, a few lines later in this sermon Jesus will insist, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48). Such perfection is humanly impossible, but with God's grace we can say, "with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Of course, another passage comes to mind: "“If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Here Jesus, I think, is telling us two things. First, if we love Christ must truly live the way he asks. Second, if we love him--and we truly have that as our goal--keeping his commandments will flow from that commitment. Augustine said it best, "Love God--and the do what you will."

If we truly love the Lord, everything else will fall into place.

2 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Keeping the commandments is obviously important.

But I don't know what they are.

Could I have a list of them please?

Anonymous said...

Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law,until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven." How do you harmonize the fact that Jesus says that not the smallest letter of the law will pass with the fact that Christians today do not practice all the letters of the Jewish law? I know the law was perfected in Jesus, but it still seems to be a bit of a contradiction.