The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - 13th February 2011

If it is true that the exception proves the rule, as is generally held, it is also probably true that too many exceptions can very quickly do away with the rule.  We have grown accustomed to seeing, in our legal system, people who seem to be excused from the normal punishment due to their crimes due to mitigating circumstances or technicalities.  People often get angry when this is the case - at least until it comes to their own turn to face such a situation. 

This is at the heart of what today's Gospel passage presents us with.  In the Jewish world of Jesus' day the law was presented as the ultimate arbiter of behaviour, both civil and religious.  The Jewish laws affected every aspect of the life of an observant Jew and, to say the least, could make life complicated.  In this type of situation it seems natural that people would often take refuge in the mentality that says that there have to be exceptions.

We can all accept quite easily that there have to be exceptions to rules and that rules should be interpreted humanely and sensibly.  However, a very real issue arises when we try to decide how humanely or sensibly the rules should be applied.  In other words, at what point do exceptions to the rules cease to apply.

Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law.  In other words he has come to bring the law to its full enactment which is that we might have life and have it to the full - that we might live in harmony with God and with one another.  In other words, the whole point of the law is not the hollow observance of rules and regulations but rather that the law should be understood as a tool which enables us to reach the fullness of our lives and living.

His own expression of the totality of the law (often referred to as the New Commandment) is that we should love God with all our heart and with all our mind and with all our sould and that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.  What are the exceptions to this law?  How can we allow exceptions to this law without making it totally meaningless?

Love can be very hard to express in words.  St. Valentine's Day will bring that reality home to us in a very obvious way.  However, love finds its concrete expression in certain attitudes that are much more easy to pin down - Forgiveness, Compassion, Empathy, Self- giving etc are some of the ways in which we both express and experience love.  It is a simple fact that we cannot love (forgive, be compassionate, empathise, give ourselves) partially, since any sort of holding back would make a lie of what we might think we are doing.  Jesus makes this more explicit by telling us to forgive our enemies and do good to those who harm us; to present the other cheek to the one who has struck us; forgive seventy times seven etc.

It may well be possible to make exceptions for many rules and regulations - in fact it is probably necessary.  However, if our law is love, then we cannot claim this liberty.  To dilute love means to do away with it and to do away with love means that we have no right to claim the name of disciple.


Article posted on 12th of February 2011

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