Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1.5-9; Psalm 147; Matthew 5:17-19
Today’s readings at mass offers us an interesting juxtaposition between two great biblical sermons. Our first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy: Moses’ great farewell sermon given as the People of Israel reached the very cusp of the Promised Land, the promised rest after a generation wandering in the desert. Here Moses urges the people to keep the commandments of God so that they might take possession of the land, so that they might receive this rest, and so that the nations will see that no other God dwells so near his people as the God of Israel.
Our Gospel reading, echoing the Pentateuch, is also an extract from a sermon, this time Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, the new Moses, begins by insisting that he has ‘not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it’. The principle, then, remains the same: the one keeping the law will be great in the Kingdom of heaven. But if we take in the whole sweep of the Sermon of the Mount from Matthew chapter 5 through 7, we see that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law represents a revolution: a simultaneous clarification, deepening and extension of the law of Moses.
This becomes more obvious if we remember that today’s extract from the Sermon on the Mount follows almost immediately after the Beatitudes. Here Jesus begins his sermon with the astonishing news that that Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the righteous, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and so on. It seems to me that Jesus here is aiming primarily to offer us a picture of what a life lived in friendship with God, a life that is lived in fidelity to the law, looks like: in short, it looks like the kind of life that Jesus lived. In the New covenant, then, as in the Old, the way we live testifies to our relationship with God.
Yet our relationship with God is radically transformed in the New Covenant: According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the 'Law' of the New Testament refers primarily to the grace of the Holy Spirit, given through faith in Christ, and inscribed in our hearts. This Divine impulse seeks us out, forming us into temples of the Holy Spirit. If we do not resist the life of the Spirit in our hearts he will draw us deeper and deeper into more profound levels of sanctifying grace, into a greater and richer love.
This life of love in the Spirit and in Christ is a foretaste here on earth of the life of heaven, which is of course a Kingdom of perfect love. As St. Paul puts it, our Promised Land, our promised rest, our citizenship, is in heaven: through a life of fidelity to the Holy Spirit, a life of fidelity to the law, we can begin to live this heavenly life here and now.