“It is better to be feared than to be loved.” These words by Niccolo Macchiavelli describe clearly his theory of the duties of a leader. He believed that a leader was to impart rules on his or her subjects, and to impart fear into them that they might follow the rules that he or she had put in place. This, Macchiavelli believed, was the pinnacle of true leadership.
This was seen as true, too, in the Old Testament understanding of God. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the Jews following the law which had been put in place for the Jewish people, in order that they might live according to the commands of God. Faithful Jews followed the Law, took their sacrifices to the Temple, honored the priests and the Sabbath, according to the letter of the Law of God.
In our Gospel for this 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear Jesus, considered by many in the ruling priestly class to be a radical in His understanding (or seeming misunderstanding) of the Law of God, teaching His disciples and us today a very important lesson. We hear Jesus taking very important prescriptions of the Law, and does He abolish them? No! He takes them even further, taking the word or letter of the Law to its heart. Jesus makes it clear that following God and living in accord with His commands is not about following the letter of the Law, but about living in relationship with one another. We see this very clearly in the Gospel. Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’…” This was the prescription of the Law. Instead of dropping this prescription, He instead says “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Why is that so? It is because in the very act of looking with lust that the person has tainted the way in which he RELATES with her, not only in his mind, but in his actions. Jesus is talking about relationship.
There are many today who believe still that if they follow the letter of the Law, of a Law that was given to them either from a church authority or from within themselves, they will find true salvation. Nonsense! Legalism breeds scrupulosity, and scrupulosity breeds sin. We look at the spirit of the law which leads us to our ever-loving, all-powerful God, who loves us and sees us as His own.
In looking at the spirit of the law, Jesus reminds us that God desires a relationship, and that the living out of the Gospel message is a living out of a radical relationship with God and with our fellow men and women. He desires us to treat one another with respect, and not do anything sinful which might ruin the way in which we relate with one another.
God does not desire us to be afraid of Him, but rather that we come to Him Who can do all, Who knows every fiber of our being. He asks that we seek and serve Him in others in everything that we do. God desires to be loved, not feared.
Let us stay true to the Gospel message, in living out our relationship with God and one another. Let us keep ourselves and our relationships pure, that we might work together for the bringing about of the Kingdom of God. Let us love one another as God loves us, for we are His beloved children.