Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount. These passages typically do not get as much airplay as the beatitudes and other notables from Matthew chapters 5-7, such as forgiveness, the Lord’s prayer, not worrying about tomorrow, and so on. Yet, they are obviously quite significant, since nothing is in Holy Scripture by accident. The reason I believe today’s passages get short shrift is that Jesus talks about the Law and keeping commandments. Sometimes Christians have a difficult time thinking about the commandments of God, because of the New Covenant, the grace given to us in Christ, and especially the writings of St. Paul and disputations between Catholics and Protestants.
Despite some of the complexities in these conversations, it is quite clear that no matter where one reads in the New Testament, we are still commanded by God to do - and not do - certain things. St. Paul is definitely giving us a moral imperative to take care of those who are sick and poor, and that there is right conduct with our bodies. St. James is absolutely telling us to pray for one another and not imbibe favoritism. St. Peter is unequivocal that we must love one another intensely. Jesus commands us to be merciful to our fellow man, to quickly and freely offer forgiveness
Commandments often get cast in a negative light. They seem restrictive. We want “freedom” and we cannot be free if we have all these constraints. Or so the oppositional logic goes. When it comes to the notion of freedom, we must ask “free from what?” Freedom is a relative term, one state juxtaposed against another state. Yet, freedom is often misunderstood to mean “doing whatever I want.” Such a definition, this spontaneity of the will, is nothing more than slavery to the passions and very close to the life of brute animals.
Being unattached to temporal passions and irrational desires, unfettering the chains that bind us to death and destruction is what it means to be free. When Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and burden-light, it means the Christian life is not without any action, quite the contrary. It is the yoke of sin that will crush us. The burdens of following our own passions and desires - these are destructive. So, God gives us explicit guardrails for not making a wreck of our lives. He shows us clearly what it means to take upon the light burden. So, the Lord Jesus speaks about the importance of divine commandments. This is now way competes with grace, for God does not compete with Himself. It is the grace of God that provides the imperative and the grace of God that continually calls us to the commandments thereby cutting through the heavy, rusty chains of sin and freeing us for the life we were meant to live.