Reading (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9)†† Gospel (St. Matthew 5:17-19)
When we look at the first reading today, it is interesting how Moses addresses the people and what the nations around them are going to think if the Israelites are following the commandments and statutes of the Lord. That is, they will say, ďThis is truly a wise and intelligent people.Ē That seems a strange way of presenting to the people what will happen and what the other nations around them will think when they see the way that they are living. But if we just stop and think about what happens when we are trying to do the Will of God, people will notice that this is what we are doing. It is not that that is why we are doing it (so people will notice) but the reality is that they will take note. And of course, if they are honest, which most people are not, but if they are intellectually honest, they will admit that what you are doing is right and what they are doing is wrong. They will be willing, then, to say that what you are doing is truly wise and intelligent: ďYou are doing the right thing; but I, on the other hand, am being caught up in the ways of the world and even though I know that what you are doing is right and what I am doing is wrong, it means much more to me to be accepted by the people around me than it does to do the Will of God.Ē
I think if we are truly honest we will admit that we have all probably fallen into that same trap. Hopefully by now we have broken out of it, but the reality is that most of us get stuck in it for a pretty long time. We are much more concerned about what everyone else thinks than what God thinks. While we want to do Godís Will, just like the Israelite people wanted to do Godís Will, we get caught. We want to be like everyone else; we do not want to be different. And so Moses is not only teaching them the statutes and commandments of God, but he is telling them what will happen on the natural level, as well as on the spiritual level. He explained to them on the natural level so that they will be able to understand the goodness of what it is they are doing.
Certainly, people will ridicule you if you are doing what Godís Will is. They will try to convince you not to do Godís Will. They will try to tell you that you need to be just like everyone else, that you are making yourself different, and that you are making a spectacle of yourself Ė which is not what you are trying to do at all if you are doing Godís Will. But it is a matter that you stand as sort of a thorn in their conscience. And so if you will stop doing Godís Will and do what everyone else is doing, then their conscience is appeased because no one around them is challenging them to do what is right. But if, on the other hand, you continue to do what is right, eventually they will leave you alone. They will acknowledge in their own minds that you are correct, even though they may not speak it with their mouths. They will know that what you are doing is right and they will have a respect for you. If, on the other hand, you start doing what they do and stop doing what God wants, everybody around you will lose their respect for you. Even though you will be their friend all of a sudden when you were not before, they will have lost their respect because they knew what you stood for and you decided to be like everyone else.
This is precisely the condemnation that Our Lord is laying out for us today: that anyone who breaks even the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom and that there is not even the smallest part of the law that is going to pass away. We need to make a clear distinction here that there are two different types of laws in the Old Testament: There are moral laws and there are ritual or ceremonial laws. The ceremonial or ritual laws have all been done away with. The Lord did away with those Himself. The moral laws all remain, that is why we do not follow the kosher laws, why we do not follow all the various laws of what we can touch that would make us unclean, or what we can or cannot eat, or who we can or cannot speak to, or whatever it might be. Those things have all gone away. The moral laws, however, all remain, and it was the moral laws that Our Lord was speaking of. So when we think about the law of God, it is the Ten Commandments and everything that they imply. That is what God is expecting of us to follow.
If we do, not only will we be living a moral life, but we will be living according to Godís Will, according to His law. We will be growing in holiness and we will be on the way toward eternity with God. That is what is most important anyway. It is what we all really truly desire and it is what we want, but we are afraid sometimes to do it because of the reaction of other people. And so we need to realize what Moses was telling the people. If you do Godís Will, you may not be thought of very well externally, you may be rejected, people are not going to want to talk to you, but the reality is you will be truly respected for what you are doing. People will be able to look, and whether they say, ďThis is truly a wise and intelligent person,Ē is beside the point, the fact is they will know that what you are doing is right. They will have respect for what it is that you are doing because it will be clear.† The law is written in their hearts and on their minds just like it is for each one of us, and at the very depths of their being they know the difference between right and wrong and they will recognize that you are doing what is right. They will respect that in you. So do not waffle just to be like everyone else; quietly stand your ground because you know what is right, and seek in all things to do the Will of God because when it comes to the law of God not even the smallest letter or the smallest part of the letter is going to pass away. He expects that we are going to be faithful to all of it.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.