Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A-2011

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning (Joel 2:12—NAB)

It has occurred to me that, notwithstanding the truth there is in the saying, “Words move, examples draw,” I should not have ended my previous reflection with a comparison between Father Opeka’s work and a pronouncement, albeit hypothetical, of a red-robed Vatican official. The Slovenian-Argentine Vincentian missionary, I suppose, would not like to be praised at the expense of another. I am afraid too that my ending probably gives the impression that hierarchs are neither credible nor respectable. May I be forgiven for my lack of sensibility, for my infraction against Mt. 23:1-3 that commands that we should observe all things whatsoever that those who seat on the chair of Moses tell us, even if we are not to follow their example. I need a member of the Vincentian family to send me, “in the spirit of humility and charity,” a comment of admonition.

My fault goes against the Vincentian spirit that I see revealed in this observation of St. Vincent de Paul: “He who makes little of external mortifications, saying that the internal ones are so much more perfect, makes it known fairly well that he does not mortify himself either internally or externally [1]. The Vincentian spirit prefers to unify opposing poles, rather than pull them apart further, and is in agreement with Jesus’ practice and teaching.

As Matthew pictures him, Jesus does not put himself in opposition to the law and the prophets nor seeks to abolish them. Jesus makes himself one with the law and the prophets and sees himself as their fulfillment. He upholds them so much he gives the assurance that, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter or the smallest part will pass away until everything is accomplished. The smallest detail is important; its being fulfilled or not fulfilled has consequences in the kingdom of heaven. From the point of view of the Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew, the law and the prophets make up a seamless garment—if I may use the idea of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin—“woven in one piece from the top down” (cf. Jn. 19:23). It means we have to keep the more important precepts without neglecting those of lesser importance (Mt. 23:23). We have to be like the poor who have the true religion and believe simply and sans éplucher [2]—that is to say, not only in the literal and basic sense of not making profound and meticulous analyses, with little relevance if not altogether insipid, but also in the wider and meta-literal sense of not rummaging through the commandments in order to pick and choose, taking the convenient and leaving behind the inconvenient.

So Jesus, according to Matthew, affirms both his union with the law and the prophets and the unity between the law and the prophets, on the one hand, and his utterances, on the other hand, which are really hyperthetical even though they sound antithetical [3]. He does not make little of the law and the prophets. But not satisfied with either the customary interpretation of them or the righteousness to which it leads, Jesus, the new Moses endowed with greater authority, testifies how one can go beyond, in a shocking and stringent manner, the interpretation and the righteousness of the Jewish religious establishment, to go to the spirit of the law and beyond its letter. Thus, Jesus cannot but modify the law and the prophets in view of perfecting and deepening people’s observance of them.

Jesus radicalizes the law and the prophets. After all, what counts ultimately is what is inside, what is at the root, and not so much what lies on the surface. One is better identified and recognized by what is in the heart and not by appearance (cf. 1 Sam. 16:17). “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks”: from the good treasure in the heart are brought forth good things; from the evil depth comes evil (Mt. 12:34-37). Deserving, then, of severe judgment is not only the act of killing but also the interior disposition of, say, anger or disdain, that leads to murder, insult, curse or oppression [4]. Not only to be curbed are evil actions but also evil intentions. And a person who has the attitude of truthfulness and integrity can dispense with oaths, for they will only be redundant [5].

No one, however, is dispensed or is exempt from the fundamental law of love. I have no problem with either accepting the Pauline doctrine and the tradition of the Church, since the council of Jerusalem, that not all 613 Old Testament precepts are indispensable (cf. Rom. 3:21-31; Gal. 2:9-10, 15-16; Acts 15:28-29) or making use of the saying, “There is an exception to every rule.” But the value there is in maintaining both the Matthean and Pauline poles is that the two together, one tempering the other, warn us about not letting the letter kill and about not using freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (2 Cor. 3:6; Gal. 5:13) [6].

Before us are freedom and licentiousness, life and death, divine wisdom and worldly wisdom. If we keep the commandment, in which the whole law is fulfilled, and abide by the stipulation that we be mindful of the poor, this would mean we are choosing the life of the Spirit and not death, the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of the world, the glorious freedom of the children of God and not the licentiousness of the slaves of sin (Gal. 2:10; 5:14, 16-26; Rom. 6:20; 8:21).

To love is to offer a gift, but nothing is offered to the God we do not see if we do not accept the brother we see (1 Jn. 4:20). It is no surprise that the Eucharist presupposes love of neighbor and reconciliation with a brother or sister. And a red-robed Vatican official is a neighbor and a brother, for sure.


NOTES:

[1] P. Coste, XI, 71.
[2] Ibid., 201-202.
[3] Cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1990) 42:29.
[4] Inter-Varsity Press Commentary at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/Angry-Enough-Kill (accessed February 9, 2011).
[5] Inter-Varsity Press Commentary at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/Oaths-Poor-Substitute (accessed February 9, 2011).
[6] Cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1990) 42:26.