That Which He Shall Choose Shall Be Given Him
Gospel Reflection for February 12, 2023 - Mt 5:17-37
Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.
He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.
But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee;
Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.
Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.
You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.
And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.
And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.
And it hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.
Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord.
But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God:
Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king:
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil. (Mt 5:17-37 DRA)
One of the most common accusations leveled against orthodox Catholics today, both by “liberal” Catholics and non-Catholics alike, is the charge of “legalism.” This term can have many connotations depending on the intention of the person using it, and as is the typical case today, terms usually go undefined, leading to ambiguity and confusion. In the reading for today, Our Lord offers a kind of commentary on the Law and the legal customs of the first-century Jews; by comparing these customs and the abuses of them which were prevalent at that time with a true understanding of Law, Christ properly distinguishes the error of legalism and shows us how to avoid it.
For modern critics, “legalism” often means any strict adherence to doctrines, moral standards or disciplines without allowing for gradations or exceptions. At times, this criticism can be valid, especially on issues which do allow for variations of opinion, preference or custom, or for special cases. These can truly represent “shades of grey” between two extremes. However, more often than not, legalism is used as an excuse for permissiveness and relativism, giving allowance for ideas which are always false or actions which are intrinsically evil or disordered and confusing charity toward individuals with allowance of sin. Even on more open issues, legalism can be used as a tool to avoid any objective consideration of whether one option could be better or worse than another; this is especially applicable to discussions about the disciplines of the Mass.
Our Lord, on the other hand, neither discards a firm, dependable concept of the Law, nor does He exclude variations on open issues. The legalism He rebukes, and which He says can lead to eternal damnation, is a mentality that sees truth and morality as purely external, not applying to the heart, and which thus tries to find ways to violate them without incurring guilt, to excuse and justify sin. Using the rabbinic technique of hyperbole, Christ teaches that the commandments of the Law, those which He fulfills through his own divine teaching and salvific mission, are immutable and are intended primarily for the conversion of the heart and growth in holiness. His Sermon on the Mount, as well as the Sacraments He instituted for His Church, are designed to perfect us from the inside out, not merely for appearance or propriety.
As a final note, many points of this Gospel reading have been explored in depth by others throughout history, including its teaching on Purgatory and what it means to swear oaths. However, the first reading also highlights an important point of it: “[God] hath set water and fire before thee: stretch forth thy hand to which thou wilt. Before man is life and death, good and evil, that which he shall choose shall be given him”. (Sir 15:17-18) Ultimately, Christ is warning against lukewarmness and indifference, the spiritual minimalism which focuses only on survival, comfort, ease and simply “getting by,” even into Heaven. This is not worthy of a saint, who is called to be perfect, as God is perfect, that we may be divinized in Christ. (Mt 5:48) As the Didache taught, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.” We must choose, and indecision is still a choice:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot.
But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest: I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing: and knowest not, that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Rev 3:15-17)
"Blessed are the pure in heart,for they shall see God",from the Beatitudes.
“As the Didache taught, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.” We must choose, and indecision is still a choice”
If I remember right, in Dante’s inferno, he places those tho refused to make a choice on the outside gates of Hell?