Spirituality of the Readings
It takes a while to grow up.
For instance, when I was a boy and my brother was four years older (he remains such, of course), we heard a reading at Mass that included the word raqa. The reading told us one must not say this word to his brother, since it meant “Thou fool.” Obviously the minute we left church we began to say, with impunity and humor, raqa, raqa, raqa to each other, since we were brothers in the strict sense of the word. The unusual word raqa is used in today’s Gospel (or at least in the “long version”).
Jesus does not use it lightly. The years have helped me see that.
Obviously, human beings do grow up and a progression takes place. A progression, I mean, from the uncomplicated, grinning approach to the commandments, into a place from which we can truly understand why to not call anyone fool.
That progression is one way of looking at the readings for this Sunday.
In the First Reading, the writer speaks in very plain terms, as a father might speak to a son or daughter.
“If you choose
you can keep the commandments,
they will save you.
If you trust in God,
you too shall live.”
These are ancient words, echoing one of the first books of the Jewish testament:
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
that you and your descendants may live,
by loving the Lord, your God,
heeding his voice,
and holding fast to him” (Deut 30:19-20).
We boys would have understood. We would have recognized “life and death, good and evil.” God would show how uncomplicated it is, how un-mysterious and how far from remote for anyone to understand.
Then Jesus came along. He gave nuance and fullness to these laws. Paul says that they became “a wisdom to those who are mature … , God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages. … ” (Second Reading).
So, one by one, Jesus takes various laws, in all their externality, and draws out their inner roots.
• Do not kill. The inner root of that law is, do not take an angry action against your brother or sister. Not even the word raqa may be spoken.
• You shall not commit adultery. The inside of that law is: be pure enough to not even look lustfully at another woman or man.
• And, divorce. The interior law is, stay faithful and loving within your marriage relationship, not just don’t divorce.
• Finally, the matter of oaths. Today people do use oaths such as “ … in the name of God … ,” or “OMG,” (which stands for O, My GOD!), or, e.g., “By God, I will never let you … ” You hear such slang everywhere, movies, television, high schools, grade schools, casual street-talk. Jesus diagnoses these usages simply: you are trying to make up for your weakness by implying that you are bigger than God. I have a better way, he tells them. Just say yes or no, and mean it. Be real.
Jesus offers us the Spirit, and St. Paul tells us that the Spirit “scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God”!
Watch Jesus as you progress through life. The inside of the law is written in his heart. As you and I grow up, let it be written in ours too.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University