One of the prime responsibilities of being a parent is to raise your children to be morally responsible. We teach them right from wrong and we set limits or rules so they will be safe and yet growing in a sociably acceptable manner. We know they will test the boundaries of the rules so we install penalties for breaking them. The aim of all of this is to make sure they are safe and live a life that is full of joy and happiness.
So it is with God and us. After the fall of Adam, God set about devising a way for us to always choose to be in relationship with him instead of choosing to satisfy ourselves through our selfish choices. It began with the giving of the law “so that if we trust God we will live.” “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him; Immense is the wisdom of the Lord.”
I believe we have learned the lessons of the law very well. In fact, we have learned this so well we are comfortable with our relationship with God because we manage to avoid “grave sin” by keeping within the boundaries of the law. This “avoiding “grave sin” attitude of ours does not help us grow into an intimate relationship with God but it does help us feel good about ourselves because we are avoiding punishment.
God desires so much more of us than trying to avoid punishment and that is the very point Jesus is making in the gospel today. Our ability to avoid “grave sin” is not what God desires of us. God’s desire from the beginning of creation was to have an intimate relationship with us as sons and daughters. We should desire to feel that love each and every day. We should desire to hear his voice speaking our hearts each and every day. We should desire to feel his arms enfolding us each and every day.
In fact if we think about how to develop a relationship with God we would not begin by making the law the foundation of that relationship. Anyone can be obedient but not everyone can love.
So today’s readings give us a contrast between the covenant of the law and the new covenant. The first depended on us to obey by strength of will. The new covenant depends on the action of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to change our hearts so we obey the law automatically.
God desires our hearts not our obedience. If we allow him to work within us, we will begin to depend on his promises to change us instead of depending on our ability to not sin. This begins by us acknowledging our way keeps us from an intimate relationship with God and his way invites us into his arms. This is the beginning of faith at work in us instead of us working to attain faith through the law.
In fact Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit tells us “before faith came we were held in custody under the law. Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian but now that faith has come we are no longer under a disciplinarian. Therefore you are heirs to the promise.” (Gal. 3:24-26).
What Jesus asks of us seems hard to accomplish. The command “thou shall not kill” is no longer applicable but it is “thou shall not get angry.” The command of “thou shall not commit adultery” is no longer applicable but it is “thou shall not even think about adultery.”
The words of Jesus challenge us to move beyond the law by allowing God to transform our hearts. This after all is the only way to be in an intimate relationship with God. Oh we can be good citizens by following the law and we will be religiously faithful. But we will miss out on the real joy of being sons and daughters of God basking in his love and approval daily.
The first step is for us to desire to live a life pleasing to God. If you are here it is evident that you have that desire.
God made it possible for us to be in an intimate relationship with him by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God promised us he would “write his law on our hearts so we would be his own” (Jer. 31:33). This promise in itself should motivate us to understand we only have to look into our hearts to know what God desires of us.
God understood our nature so well that even with the law written on our hearts we would still seek to satisfy self. God understood this so well he made us another promise to “give us a new heart and put his spirit within us and make us live by his statues and decrees” (Ez. 36:26-27).
No longer will we need the law to guide us to avoid sin. We will fulfill the law as Jesus describes because we have God’s love imprinted on this new heart he promised us.
How do we move from law abiding citizens to spirit following sons and daughters? We begin by seeking God in prayer and asking God to pour the transforming power of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open our heart to the love of the Father and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
If you pray that prayer daily you will find yourself moving into the loving arms of a God who loves you and will fill your heart with joy. You will find how God has stripped you of the righteousness of Pharisees and has clothed you in his righteousness and glory.