(Matthew 5:17-37) I suspect that rules were no more popular in Jesus’ time than they are today. After all, no one likes to be told what to do. But if you stop to think about it, the world would really not be a very nice place if we didn’t have rules. Governments, organizations, and families all have them. They exist for the common good of all of their members, not only to protect individuals but also to preserve the unity and integrity of the whole group.1
Christians have rules, too. We call them the Ten Commandments. Their purpose is to help us grow in our faith as well as in our love for God and neighbour. They help us to be united as we journey together towards our eternal destination: heaven. We may try to deceive ourselves into thinking that it isn’t a big deal if we break a Commandment every now and then. But the bottom line is that there are consequences when we break God’s Commandments – just as there are consequences when we break other rules. In the same way that we get a speeding ticket (or worse) for driving too fast, when we ignore God’s laws, we put our eternal happiness at risk.
But it isn’t enough to merely pay ‘lip service’ to the law. Jesus isn’t satisfied with the mere external observance of God’s Commandments. He wants us to go beyond that – to get to the heart of the matter: to root out the poisonous thoughts and words that are the true source of our wrong actions. Perhaps we have never physically murdered someone. But how often have we been guilty of wounding others with our words or destroying their reputations through gossip and rash assumptions? Perhaps we have never physically been unfaithful to our spouse, but adultery begins long before the actual physical act takes place – when we fail to treasure our spouses and to nurture our marriages, or fail to guard our purity and to resist temptation. Do you need to swear that you are telling the truth before other people will believe you? You wouldn’t need to do that if your ‘yes’ always meant ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ always meant ‘no’.
If this seems like a lot to ask, we need only remember that no one ever promised that following Jesus would be easy. And the fact of the matter is that no one is forcing us to follow God’s Commandments. We have a choice. We can choose to do wrong – to go our own way – and accept the inevitable consequences of such a decision. Or we can choose to do right and experience the peace, hope, and joy that will follow when we live in union with our Lord. It’s a life and death decision. What will you choose?
– Sharon van der Sloot
“If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” – Matthew 19:17
1 Cf. Fr. John Trigilio, Jr. and Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, Catholicism for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012), 175.