Getting beyond the rules

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
· 1 view

We need to go beyond the written law to Christ's true intent (manifested in the Sermon on the Mount) to become the disciples we're called to be

When I read this morning’s Gospel, the first thing that came to mind was, of all things, COOKING. It may come as a surprise, but I can cook fairly well. We have a meal service, and every week we get three meals with portioned ingredients and detailed recipe cards. And generally three nights a week I happily chop, grate, and prepare a pretty good meal. Give me a recipe and clear direction, and I’m in my comfort zone. I can put a decent meal on the table. But that does NOT make me a COOK, not by a long shot.
I’ve known a few cooks. My mom definitely was. Father David’s probably a cook. And Marybeth, my wife – I think she’s a cook, too, although she’ll probably deny it. She READS cookbooks and cooking magazines for fun! When she decides to make something, she’ll look at three or five different recipes. Then she just puts together the meal, taking different things out of the recipes or the things she’s read. She starts pulling stuff out of the pantry, grabbing spices off the shelf, and brings it all together to make something fabulous. That’s a cook. They understand how different flavors, ingredients, and techniques play off each other. And they use that knowledge to go beyond the recipe to create something even better. Those of us who cook, we follow our recipe, sit down, and happily enjoy our meal, comfortable and satisfied in a job well done. A cook on the other hand, works their magic, then sits down to enjoy the meal. But the whole time they’re analyzing the food, thinking “How can I make this better? What else can I do?”
That’s not a bad analogy for our Gospel message. These past few weeks we’ve been on a spiritual journey with Jesus through our Gospel readings and his Sermon on the Mount. Immediately before today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus truly IS the fulfillment of the prophecies, but there’s so much more here. He’s EXPANDING, INTERPRETING, and EXPLAINING the law, breaking it open in a new and different way. Two weeks ago, Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, a new way of understanding a truly Christian life. Last week Christ called us to be SALT and LIGHT to the world – to be part of bringing salvation and the joy of His message to all the nations. Today we hear Jesus tell us, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Christ has been bringing us something new, a different way of understanding God’s plan for our salvation. The Jewish people of Christ’s time were people of law, the Law of the Covenant. The Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses and the interpretations handed down through the ages were central to their daily lives. For millennia going back to Moses and the patriarchs, the Jewish leaders had been perfecting the recipe for salvation, polishing their understanding of their divine Covenant with God. The scribes and the Pharisees KNEW the commandments and rules cold – ALL the rules, and there were hundreds. They followed and enforced them to the letter. Trusting in the divine origin of their teaching, the Law had become the focus of their faith, their recipe for how to worship God. And in their strict adherence, the scribes and Pharisees took pride and were confident in their ultimate salvation.
And now they have this upstart teacher with no formal schooling, this new rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, challenging their authority. He’s telling the people that the Pharisees have it wrong, that they don’t understand the Commandments, that they need to go BEYOND what’s written. “You shall not kill.” In fact, you shouldn’t even be ANGRY at your brother or sister. “You shall not commit adultery.” And you shouldn’t even entertain lustful thoughts. And not only should you not make a false oath, you shouldn’t take an oath at all, but simply be truthful in EVERYTHING that you do or say.
Christ’s Gospel message isn’t that these rules or the law are wrong. Remember the preface to today’s reading: “I have come not to abolish (the law), but to fulfill (it).” And it isn’t a message just for the ancients, either. As a Church, we may not be as far removed from the scribes and Pharisees as we think. Our Catechism runs almost 700 pages and 2900 separate sections. The Code of Canon Law – seven books with over 1700 separate laws. And of course we have Papal direction, USCCB guidance, and archdiocesan guidelines as well. And none of that is bad. All of those are valuable, needed, and effective tools for strengthening us in our faith.
What Christ is telling us is that the rules and laws of our faith are simply not an end unto themselves. Like a cook with a recipe, the rules – the “law”, if you will — exist to help guide us and give us a baseline, not to restrict our thinking. Too often, though, we become focused on following the rules, the “recipe” for a faithful life. “Get the family to Mass every week?” Check. “Confession once a year?” Check. “Money in the offering basket?” Check. “Giving up something during Lent?” Check. And before we know it, we fall into a routine, happily following the spiritual recipe dictated for us. And we become complacent, comfortable that we’re living out our faith – just like the Pharisees.
But we’ve been called for so much more! We’ve been called to become saints, to join Christ in heaven. But here’s the thing. No saint ever got to heaven by saying, “Okay Lord, I think I’m good where I’m at. I’m done.” And neither will we. Following a good recipe yields a credible meal, both in the kitchen and in our spiritual lives. But it’s not enough. We need to look beyond the current recipe of our spiritual life, and find ways to make it better. But no matter how good we think it is, Christ doesn’t want us to simply follow that recipe. He wants us to become a spiritual COOK, to start with our recipe, and say again and again, “Lord, this is really good, but how can I make it better? What else can I do?”
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more