Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Spirit of the Law is Peace

Lectionary Readings:

  • Sirach 15: 15-20. We are responsible for our actions. At the same time God is all-seeing and remains in control of the universe.
  • 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10. God’s wisdom is mysterious, planned before all ages, for those who love him.
  • Matthew 5: 17-37. Fulfillment of the law and the prophets reaches beyond the letter of Scripture to new expectations of the Spirit.

Thoughts for your consideration:

In the year 622 bce, during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, a document called “The Book of Laws” was discovered in the Jerusalem Temple. This document was a portion of the Biblical book that would eventually be called Deuteronomy (for the Torah did not exist at this point in history) and the impact that it had on King Josiah and the people of Judah was to spark the Deuteronomic reform movement. On the one hand the Deuteronomic reform was a religious movement that promoted a strong fidelity to the One God Yahweh, but that is only half of its intended accomplishment. The Deuteronomic reform was also a socio-economic reform movement. This movement includes programs of economic equity like the protection of the marginalized widows and orphans and the redistribution of wealth program known as the Jubilee. It protected the rights of the people in the community including the migrant and slaves. It created sanctuary zones to protect people who were being persecuted. The famous prophets of the eight and seventh centuries like Micah, Hosea and Jeremiah have been defenders of the Deuteronomic reform movement during times when the Kings of Judah have been lax both with their religious and socio-economic responsibilities. Again and again they remind the people that the spirit of the law is being broken when the poor are being neglected, the people are being oppressed or when needless wars are being waged.

In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus takes his place within the prophetic tradition to again defend the Deuteronomic reform movement. He reminds us that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In some ways it seems that in fulfilling the law he is offering a stricter interpretation, but that is not the case. Instead Jesus is offering to us the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is meant to promote an attitude of justice and peace. My daughter recently remarked how at the very least she can be satisfied with the fact that she is keeping the fifth commandment since she will never kill anyone. I suspect that others may have at one time or another considered a similar minimalistic interpretation of that commandment. But in the readings today Jesus reminds us that the spirit of that precept calls us to not be angry or insult one another, instead we are also called to be a forgiving people. In short we are being asked to be people of peace and nonviolence.   

Our own human wisdom tends to prefer a literal version of codes and contracts, we then pride ourselves in being able to maneuvering around these codes for our own personal gain. Both Sirach and Paul remind us in the first two readings that the wisdom which needs to guide us is the divine wisdom which gave us these codes to begin with. It is a creative wisdom that is grounded in the spirit of faith and a vision for the common good rather than in the limited patterns of individual reason and logic. It is accessible to us in our hearts when we allow ourselves to reflect on events or moments that trouble our social conscience. In the epistle of James we can find a very good distinction between the human wisdom that can corrupt our moral thinking and the divine wisdom that can truly guide us in following the spirit of the laws. I will leave you with this excerpt from the third chapter of his letter which talks about wisdom and I suggest that we further reflect on the lesson that Jesus offers in this week’s gospel reading through the lens of being cultivators of peace.

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.


About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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