This Sunday, Paul and the Old Testament are More Loving than Jesus

People often say the Old Testament and St. Paul are harsh but the New Testament and Jesus are mild and forgiving of sin.  Today’s readings prove otherwise.

In the first reading, the Old Testament uses a positive approach to promoting the commandments: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live.”

In the Gospel, Jesus uses a different approach: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”

The Old Testament Psalm offers kind, hope-filled words: “Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”

But Jesus warns about how serious the law is: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.”

St. Paul tells of what we can expect if we follow the commandments: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

Jesus tells us what to expect if we don’t: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Is Jesus being mean? Is he being too strict?

Not in the least. When you see someone drinking poison, the kindest, most loving thing to do is to tell them sternly and abruptly of the danger.

Of course, Jesus also spends time convincing people of the beauty of the moral way when he shares the Beatitudes and elsewhere. But without the stern warnings, we might miss the urgency of his words.

And we really need to understand how urgent they are.

Consider that first reading. God “has set before you fire and water. To whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand,” it says. “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”

Think about that for a second. What Father would say to his children, “I hold out two choices for you: A healthy meal on one hand; poison on the other. Pick which ever you want.”

We would have a very hard time doing that. Our natural tendency would be to prevent our children the awesome power of a real, lasting choice like that. God doesn’t do that: He gives us real choice.

As the Catechism puts it: “Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom …  it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.”

God is radically pro-freedom. He does not force us to do anything. That is because without freedom there is no love, and God is love.

But God is also all-good, and he cannot tolerate evil.

This is why Jesus warns us so harshly and insistently warns not to do evil — but to not even think about doing evil.

So pray this Sunday for the grace of being as serious about the commandments as Jesus is. It’s the loving thing to do.


Photo: Randy OHC, Flickr Creative Commons.

Support the Gregorian Institute,  Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.