3 March, Friday – Why Not Both?

Friday of the 1st week of Lent

Ez 18:21-28
Mt 5:20-26

If your virtue goes no further than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”

Today’s readings have certainly given me much food for thought. Actually, to be honest, what is there to think about? The readings are very clear — there is salvation for all, and there is also judgment for all. This means every single person has an equal chance of salvation, and every single person will be judged by the same standards. I guess the mystery here, and the thing to ruminate on, is what exactly is the standard? What kind of behaviour or attitude is the right one?  

The term ‘Pharisee’ has been bandied about loosely to describe someone unduly rigid and inflexible, who shows little charity, and is somewhat of a hypocrite. I think. I’m not very sure about the meaning of Pharisee in today’s context; I just know it’s a bit of a derogatory term. However, the Pharisees (the original ones back then and the ones now) are sure that they are doing the correct thing, despite criticism and ridicule from other people. And likewise, their critics also think they are the ones doing the right thing! So who is right and who is wrong? What is right and what is wrong?

A few verses before this passage, Jesus said he came not to abolish any old laws, but to fulfil the old laws. I understand this to mean that Jesus is expounding on the old law, to urge the people to live out the old law, that would allow God’s love to be alive. He did outline some ways to do so in the Beatitudes, and cautioned against losing our flavour should we fail to live the law. So in this sense, we not only need to know and understand the letter of the law as well as the Pharisees did, we also must embody the spirit of the law by way of ministering to others.

Many people on both sides of an argument tend to see things in an either/or way. This is due to misunderstanding the effects of their actions. Those who insist on following laws right down to the letter do not fully grasp how this would affect other people. While it is generally good to abide by laws, sometimes the law can have an effect of punishing the wrong person, or punishing only those honest enough who turn themselves in, thus adversely encouraging hiding of misdeeds. Those who insist on getting a good result for everybody down the line, with no regard for the law, are also creating an environment of overt misdeeds, no matter how noble their intentions were.

An example would be a highly authoritarian parent whose child eventually lies so as to avoid punishment — this is the Pharisee. Or the parent that only wants their child to be happy, and ends up with a self entitled spoilt brat — this is the anti-Pharisee. Or a dictatorship in which no one is happy or free, versus a completely laissez-faire system where everyone is also unhappy although free, but not quite free either. You get the gist. One cannot swing too much to either side. If the laws are too harsh, instead of inciting civil disobedience, why not try to bring about change? Because that would be true justice and mercy instead of merely self-righteousness and zealotry.

In the First Reading, the prophet Ezekiel talks about the sinner who repents, and the righteous man who turns away from God at the end. The former gets saved, the latter does not. What this tells me is that there is no point trying to judge one another based on who you think is doing the right or wrong thing. But you have to judge yourself. Are you too focused on maintaining law and order, or are you too focused on keeping everyone happy? How about we try to synthesise the two? Understanding why a law exists goes a long way in ensuring that everyone’s needs can be met in a non chaotic manner.  

While Jesus did not do away with the laws, neither did He say to simply obey the laws. He wanted us to live the spirit of the laws. We have to change, internally, so that we embody the reason for the laws, which makes it easier to live them out. So what is the standard, what is the point, or spirit of the law? At the risk of sounding like Dumbledore, I’d say it is Love. Charity. Kindness. It is wanting the good of another. And this entails denial of self, and sometimes denial of another. After all, Jesus was the one who lived out God’s sermon of sacrificial love.  

(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for our eyes to be opened to others, especially those who are suffering. We pray for our hearts to be opened towards those who need our help. We pray for our minds to be opened to the various ways we can help.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, we thank You for your abiding love for us. Thank you for the many chances you have given to us to share Your love with others.


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