1 Kings 18:20-39
USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew.
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.”
Good News Reflection: What motivates true obedience?
Why do we obey laws? Usually it’s the fear of punishment. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus wants to place our focus on the goal of God’s laws: love, which replaces fear. He’s laying the foundation for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Being children of God means growing up into the likeness of Christ, rather than remaining as immature kids who comply with goodness only because of the penalties for breaking the laws.
His non-literal view of the law caused confusion among his listeners, so Jesus explained it, saying in effect: “The interpretation that I give to the Law does not mean that the laws are invalid. Rather, it shows that you are not even fulfilling the Law if your so-called obedience isn’t motivated by love for God and love for neighbor” (as he detailed in Matt. 22:35-40).
When Jesus spoke of heaven and earth passing away, he did not mean a literal end of the universe. The Jewish listeners knew he was referring to Isaiah 65:17, which is God’s promise to create a new heaven and earth by sending the Messiah. They didn’t know it yet, but the passing away of the old was going to happen when Jesus completely fulfilled the true meaning of the Law. As the Messiah, he had to undo every sin, provide the love that was missing, and make up for everything lacking in the way humankind obeyed the Law.
And he invited us to greater maturity. As grown-up Christians, we’re responsible for inviting others to obey the laws for the same reason, not by forcing them through fear and guilt, but patiently and compassionately encouraging them to grow. Did other Christians ever treat you unlovingly because of their legalistic approach? Even when the motivation is love, focusing on the rules can hide the true nature of God. Jesus started his sermon with a list of blessings, not warnings.
For example, consider the Church law about attending Mass every weekend. We could try to make inactive Catholics get back to church by warning them that it’s a sin to skip Mass, or we could invite them to a wonderful experience of Eucharist and Christian community, letting the Holy Spirit work on their hearts for as long as it takes to inspire a genuine desire. He wants a relationship, not grudging obedience. Legalism has produced a lot of Catholics who sit through Mass without truly experiencing it. And many of them are now sitting somewhere else on Sundays.
Holy obedience results in a greater love for God and neighbor. Holy obedience makes a difference in how we love. The bottom line and ultimate goal is always love. This is what makes us “great in the kingdom of heaven.”
For a Bible Study on the entire Sermon on the Mount, visitwordbytes.org/bible-study/holy-living-1.
Holy Spirit, forgive me, please, for the times I saddened You by disobeying Your promptings and commands. Help me to grow in my relationship with You. Grant me the grace of obedience. Amen.
© 2018 by Terry A. Modica