In the Book of Sirach, we hear God saying that he “sets before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.” In this case, choosing the water is following God’s way. By stretching forth your hand into the fire, which is not our Lord’s way, we not only refrain from God’s way, but hurt ourselves in the process.
When a believer stretches forth his or her hand into the water to help others, he or she is fulfilling what Jesus said later in the Bible, that “whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me.” Though the first reading this Sunday focuses on following God’s way versus the alternative, this reflection will cover the issue at hand in today’s Gospel: not only following the words of God’s way, but also following the spirit of the words.
In today’s Gospel according to Matthew, subsequent to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus responds to a concern of his disciples: whether or not he has come to eradicate the law or to continue to uphold it. Jesus says, “I have come not to abolish [the law] but to fulfill it.” By “fulfill,” I believe Jesus means that He will bring the full understanding of the law to his people. An example of this is when He says, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment.”
Jesus here says that killing is wrong, but also being angry with someone, which is required for killing, is wrong, as well. In this example, it is not only about following the law as written, but also it is important to follow the spirit in which the law was written. So, for a common example, on a bus the “law” is to give up your seat to an pregnant, disabled, or elderly person. This portion of the Gospel reveals that we shouldn’t only follow the wording of the law, but also the spirit of the law. Though unwritten, the spirit of the law is asking us to look to do something good for the less fortunate whenever we can. Look for someone who is in need and help them.
So we can apply this insight Jesus gives us to our daily lives in many ways, not only in responding to laws, but also in the actions of our friends and neighbors. We can apply this understanding to the actions of others as well. When someone is angry with us, we have to try to figure out the reason why the person is angry, and then determine what is the spirit of our response: will our actions be showing the spirit of the Love of God?