To appreciate the message of today’s Gospel, it’s important to understand the context. This Gospel passage is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. After having taught the Beatitudes and after having commissioned his disciples to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”, Jesus addresses the question, “Are the 10 commandments still relevant?”
Jesus begins by explicitly stating that his goal is not to eliminate the 10 commandments but to fulfill them. “To fulfill” means not only to comply with, but to go beyond what the law dictates. The Law of Moses is still valid.
But more than that, Jesus wants his disciples to go the extra mile to be faithful to the underlying spirit of each commandment. “To fulfill” means to move beyond the external observance of a commandment to observance on the inside, in the heart and mind of the person. “To fulfill” means that the ultimate purpose of following any Law, commandment, regulation or statute is not for its own sake. Rather, the intent is always to deepen our relationship with God and with each other.
Let’s consider the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder”, as an example. What does it mean to be faithful to this commandment on a higher level? Pope Francis has given us a very public answer to this question over the past week.
This past Monday, Pope Francis made history. He completed the 1st Papal visit to Iraq. He spent 4 days touring a country that has been ravaged by war, violence, terrorism, ethnic conflict and religious conflict.
The 5th commandment is about respecting all human life from conception to natural death. In his remarks, the Pope certainly upheld the inherent dignity of every human life. But Francis took it a step further. Not only is killing unjustified, but any attitude or value that leads to loss of mutual respect and harmony is equally unjustified.
The external act of killing another person begins on the inside – in the human heart and mind. External behaviour is merely the logical consequence of an interior decision. It is for this reason that the Pope not only denounced the destruction and the great loss of life. He also denounced religious extremism and everything that opposes friendship between religions.
An article in America magazine made this comment in its coverage of the Pope’s historic trip: “While some world leaders build coalitions for war, Pope Francis hopes to build an international religious coalition for peace, including not only Christians and Muslim, but believers of other faiths”. This article is reinforcing the point that the Pope is not only condemning killing actions. He is equally condemning any thought, word or intention that promotes conflict, division and hatred rather than peace among people of different backgrounds and cultures.
At Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, Pope Francis said, “From this place where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful, that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name is by hating our brothers and sisters. Let us not allow the light of heaven to be overshadowed by the clouds of hatred”. These remarks provide the best example of what it means when “to fulfill the law” with respect to the 5th commandment. We are faithful to this commandment on a higher level when our ultimate guide becomes the law of love.
How does all this apply to us in Sudbury? Fr. Henri Nouwen wrote: “Nobody is shot with a bullet who is not first shot with a word – and nobody is shot with a word who is not first shot with a thought”.
When we make mean-spirited comments about others, we are assassinating someone’s character. When we make negative and harsh judgements about others who are different from us, we are silencing their heartbeats. When we are unkind and severely critical of the efforts of others, we are destroying and tearing apart community. When we feed bitterness and resentment in our relationships, we are choosing death over life.
The Pope’s message was not just for Iraquis. Religion can never be used to separate ourselves from our neighbors. When we do that, we are breaking the 5th commandment. In this city, province and country, Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of all faiths are all called to live in harmony with each other. If we do not work together for justice, peace and for the rights and dignity of every person, we will continue to shun each other and, in our hearts, shoot each other.
It is true that the commandment, “You shall not kill”, condemns murder, abortion, suicide, physician assisted dying and euthanasia. However, we also break the 5th commandment when we choose conduct that is inconsistent with the spirit of this commandment.
“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”. These powerful words are addressed to each of us this afternoon. Let’s return to the original question: “Are the 10 commandments still relevant in 2021? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Although the 10 commandments are over 3,000 years old, they are still binding for us today. Today’s Scripture tells us that keeping the 10 commandments is the bare minimum required to be a decent human being. If we accept the challenge to be an intentional disciple of Jesus, our call is to a standard of moral excellence which is a much higher ideal than found in the 10 Commandments. The reflection that we have just done on the spirit of the 5th commandment ought to be done with the other 9.
As our Mass continues, let us ask God for the grace to allow this higher moral spirit to influence every aspect of our lives – what we do, but more importantly, what we say, what we think and what we decide.
Amen. March 10, 2021 Deacon Roland Muzzatti