(Sir 15:15-20; Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37)
A line in the Responsorial Psalm for the 2nd Sunday of the Year: “My God, I delight in your law in the depth of my heart” [Ps 39 (40):8] seems to me to sum up today’s Gospel: Jesus leading us into a deep understanding of what the Law of God (the Torah) was all about. Some commentators on this passage of Matthew speak as if Jesus was setting up an antithesis between the Law of the Old Testament and that of the New. But Matthew makes it clear that this is not the case: “not one jot, not one little stroke shall disappear from the Law” (jot is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, while stroke is merely part of the embellishment of the Hebrew letters). Jesus, as a Jew, loved his Torah because he saw in it the embodiment of his Father’s great love for his people. But he realised very clearly our capacity for only superficially adhering to that Torah: “if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will never get into the Kingdom of heaven.” We are only too familiar with the way a rigid legalism in the Irish Church in the past led, not only to a false kind of virtue, but even to abuse.
It is no accident that the examples Matthew gives for Jesus’s bringing us to the depths of the Torah come from what came to be called the Ten Commandments, though the Torah itself speaks of them as The Ten Words. Jesus, “delighting” in God’s Torah “in the depths of his heart,” rather than sticking to the letter of the Law as commandments, sees them instead as God’s loving Words, inviting our response to God by the way we show responsibility for one another. He invites us to look into the depths of our hearts, facing up to the truth of what we find there as it results in our behaviour: “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill… . But I say this to you…”
Paul tells us in the second Reading that we are not alone in this: we have the power of the Spirit with us: “for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything.” It needs wisdom, as both Paul and the first reading point out, to make space for the Lord to renew our depths, to face the truth of our inner attitudes and how they affect the way we behave. The second Readings for the current six Sundays are all from 1 Corinthians and show Paul grappling with a community that consistently misunderstood the living out of the faith that he had taught them. Jerome Murphy O’Connor, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians called the Corinthians: “Conceited, stubborn, over-sensitive, argumentative, infantile, pushy… they were the most exasperating community he had to deal with” (1 Corinthians New Testament Message 10, 1979). His Corinthian Christians were indeed in dire need of “the hidden wisdom of God,” rather than adhering to the popular wisdoms and philosophies current at the time.
As Jesus teaches us “to delight in God’s Law in the depth of our heart,” may his spirit of wisdom enable us to live out his Torah faithfully in our daily lives.