In today’s Gospel Our Lord puts us on guard against the danger of legalism, where laws are made for the sake of making laws, bureaucracy is the order of the day, and the purpose of the law doesn’t go much beyond bean counting in order to maintain an air of respectability. Our Lord doesn’t condemn laws; rather, he condemns losing sight of the purpose of those laws.
As he teaches us today, law’s purpose is judgment: to ensure that parties in conflict each receive what justice says is their due. Its purpose is mercy: to be fair to the party in the wrong, but to try and help him or her to become a good citizen again, not just fill prisons or government coffers. Finally, its purpose is fidelity: fostering solid bonds of solidarity between members of society at all levels: marriages, families, corporations, etc.–when someone breaks the law they should realize that they’ve failed in something expected of them to ensure the common good. Taxes on spices may be useful, but they’re not at the heart of the law.
We also need to examine laws to see whether they ensure just judgments, leave room for mercy, and foster fidelity. Let’s pray for our legislators that they have these principles in mind when drafting laws, and let’s also ask Our Lord to help us not sacrifice the important things for a hollow legal compliance in empty things.
Readings: 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8; Psalm 139:1–6; Matthew 23:23–26.