Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:35-48
One of the key themes of the Sermon on the Mount from which this week’s gospel is taken is Jesus’ exhortation (which he also lived out) to follow the spirit of the law and not just the letter. In fact, in some cases following the letter of the law too strictly could actually violate its’ spirit.
A quick primer: The “letter of the law” is what the law says. The “spirit of the law” is the value that the law is protecting or promoting. The classic scriptural example of the difference are the several miracle stories in which Jesus cures someone who is lame or blind on the Sabbath. Inevitably, this action causes tension between Jesus and some of the Pharisees. The reason: The third commandment (Keep Holy the Sabbath) strictly forbids the performing of any unnecessary work on the Sabbath day. On the seventh day of Creation, God rested from all of God’s labors. As it logically follows that we are not busier than God, so should we. The Sabbath day is reserved for worship of God and taking time to enjoy the company of others – especially those whom we love – and to enjoy the wonders of creation.
Nothing wrong with that. The problem arose, however, because the Pharisees were so focused on the letter – “unnecessary work” – that when they witnessed Jesus’ healing miracles this was the only thing they could see. Their logic ran something like this: “If the man is blind on the Sabbath, he’ll still be blind tomorrow. Cure him then.” Jesus, and all those who read the gospel accounts, see the absurdity of the argument. How could restoring one of God’s beloved to health NOT be an act of worship?
Where the Spirit vs. Letter gets more demanding for us is the way that Jesus applies it to the second part of the Great Commandment: “You shall love God with all of your heart and all of your mind and all of your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” what he is really saying is that to love your neighbor as yourself is only the Letter of the law. The spirit – the experience through which we encounter the heart of the Great Commandment – is when we love that person who does not love us.
Christianity is so much easier when we stick to the letter of the law. The problem is, it has little to do with Jesus. And can a faith that clings only to the surface of discipleship be considered a faith at all?
So, this week, let’s dig in deeper. Plunge below the surface and allow the Holy Spirit to carry you into the depths of Love. Resist the temptation to come up for air, for this is an ocean filled with the waters of life.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
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