Going back to the roots

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

After the liberation of the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, God gave them the 10 Commandments, the law, through Moses in Mt. Sinai. It not only set them on a higher moral ground than their neighbors, it was also supposed to make them enjoy the freedom of God's people. But over the centuries, their priests constructed a legal system that prescribed rules for everything. These become so oppressive that the people were made slaves again - to the demands of the convoluted law.

That Jesus wants to return to the original purpose of the law we see in the gospel reading (Mt. 5:17-37). Thus we hear Jesus say, "I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law." "To fulfill" the law is to place no limits on the ways it is to be carried out. And "to fulfill" the law, it must be grounded on righteousness which "surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law." "Righteousness" here means the radical gift of self to God and neighbor in both inner thought and outward action. It is on this "righteousness" that Jesus wants us to build on the foremost law: love for God and neighbor.

To make clear what Jesus wants to accomplish, He proceeds to show the foundation on which some of the commandments are based. On killing another person, He says, "You have heard it was said to your ancestors, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment." In effect, Jesus is saying that it is not only a knife or a gun that kills. It is the anger and hatred in a person's heart that kills.

Getting angry is a natural human reaction but remaining angry is unchristian. If we allow anger to grow in our heart by reconstructing all the hurts and insults that a person has inflicted on us -- real or alleged -- before we know it, we desperately want to have our revenge. When we finally take the life of a person we vehemently hate, we feel satisfied but only for a moment as the deed will haunt us for life. Why? Because we have done violence to God's most wonderful gift: human life.

This is exactly what happened during the emotional debate on whether or not to put back the death penalty in our statute books. People affirmed the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" but they were angry at government's inability to control crime specially of kidnapping and rape. They believed that passing such a law would deter everyone from committing a heinous crime. Almost 10 years after the enactment of the law, the commission of same crimes remains unabated. Now, their hands have been stained with blood.

For Jesus, respect for life is paramount. Thus if anger and hatred is removed from our hearts and we instead let love and respect for others dominate, then violence against others will be diminished if not eliminated.

The same can be said of adultery. Attraction for the opposite sex is normal. More, it is essential for the survival of the human race. But what have we made of this? As Jesus Himself said, "You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Adultery or sins of passion happen when we ignore God's purpose in giving us this attraction for the opposite sex--for the propagation of the human race through marriage. However, instead of controlling our desires, we make them run wild by telling and listening to dirty jokes, reading indecent magazines, watching x-rated movies or videos, etc. These degrade women. Instead of treating them as persons - to be loved and cared for - we have turned them into sex objects -- for the gratification of our lust. How we have turned God's purpose in creation upside down!

What couples in love do can help illustrate what we mean by living up to God's standard of "righteousness." For couples in love, the question is never "What should I not do?" but rather "What more can I do." The measure of their love is "to give till there is no more to give" - the complete opposite of treating others as objects of self-gratification.

Jesus gives us these examples to show the importance of going back to the roots underlying God's commandments. If we only emphasize the letter of the law, then we often find ourselves asking, "What is the minimum requirement of the law?" Worse, we look for exemptions or find ways to go around it. But if we emphasize the foundation underlying the law -- love for God and neighbor -- then the question we ask is, "What more can and will I do?"

Going back to the roots of God's law gives life to our love relationship with God and neighbor which in turn makes us enjoy the freedom of God's children.