Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on February 11, 2017 at 6:00PM and February 12, 2017 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
A young man stopped at a tuxedo shop to order a tuxedo for his upcoming wedding. He was a little nervous about getting married so as the tailor took his measurements, the young man asked him if he was married. “Yes, in a few weeks my wife and I will have been married 50 years,” the older man replied.
“Wow!” the young man replied, “50 years is a long time. Do you ever have any problems?”
“None,” the older gentleman replied, “It’s wonderful. We never fight, argue, get on each other’s nerves, or have any problems ever. It’s absolutely perfect.”
The young man wanted a marriage like that so he asked the older gentleman for some advice on how to make that happen.
“Well, my wife always wanted to visit China, so for our honeymoon I saved as much as I could and I took her to China.”
“That’s really nice! What are you going to do special for your 50th Anniversary?”
“I’m going back to China to get her.”
The joke is funny because it has so much truth in it. If you want a perfect marriage without any problems, you really have to stay apart and avoid each other. Of course it’s not really a marriage then, is it? Any relationship, whether it is a marriage, a family, a friendship, or coworkers requires contact and interaction in order to work and grow, otherwise it falls apart and eventually fades away. But contact and interaction often leads to friction, conflicts, and unhappy people.
One way we try to reduce friction and conflicts between people is to establish rules. I know in our house we have so many rules that I have been known to throw up my hands and say, “There are too many rules! I can’t remember them all!” We have dozens of rules on laundry alone. You probably have rules in your house. Rules on curfews, bed times, quiet times, chores, homework, dinner, TV, cell phones. If you have kids at home, you probably have more rules than those of us who do not.
We also have rules in our relationship with God – the commandments. Many of the scribes and Pharisees thought that Jesus was trying to get rid of the rules and make new ones, as you might want to do at your own house. But Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” He was looking at the law differently. Most of us have never killed (unless spiders and stink bugs count) but how often do we get angry with someone or sometimes even wish them harm? We may not have physically committed adultery, but have we done so with our eyes and our thoughts? Jesus wants us to understand that following the law of God is more than an external list of dos and don’ts. It’s also about our thoughts and our hearts. It’s not just about who we are on the outside, but also about who we are on the inside.
Rules would not be needed if we simply considered the spirit that underlies them. What makes the laundry quicker and easier? When the laundry is in the basement, pockets empty, inside right, and sorted properly. The dozens of rules we have in our house about laundry relate to making this happen. The rules you have in your home exist to keep everyone happy, healthy, rested, safe, and make them better people. Rules are hard to remember, but it’s easy to figure out what would make mom and dad happy and what would keep you healthy, rested, safe, and make you a better person. Jesus wants us to focus not on the list of commandments, but the spirit behind them.
The older gentleman whose wife was in China was fulfilling his obligation of the law of marriage to some degree, but he was probably not a good husband and his marriage was not fulfilling. In the same way we can follow the commandments: to love God and our parents, to not kill, commit adultery, lie, swear, covet, check off the entire list of obligations, and yet not be a good person or lead a fulfilling life.
There was a study done at Harvard University that took 75 years to complete. It involved the graduates of the classes of 1938, 1939, and 1940, and it followed them and every aspect of their lives: their families, their careers as doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and the money and possessions they accumulated in their lifetimes. Many of them were successful, famous, and powerful. The purpose of the study was to find out what leads to a fulfilling life. The conclusion was universal for all involved in the study. The answer to a fulfilling life is simply love. The more love they experienced, the more fulfilling their life. The more positive relationships they had, the more fulfilling their life. A career with lots of money and power was not fulfilling, it was only fulfilling if they loved the work they were doing. So I guess my life would be much more fulfilling if I was no longer a software engineer and instead became a greeter at Walmart, because I know I would absolutely love that job.
The answer to a fulfilled life is love. That is really what Jesus means by fulfilling the law, because the commandments: love God, love your parents, do not kill, lie, steal, cheat, or covet are all based entirely on love. Do you know the Ten Commandments? If so, do you know the Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant version? Each list is different even though they come from the same chapter in the Book of Exodus. You don’t need to know the list if you simply love. The commandments are about love.
The commandments are not meant to be a to-do list or not-to-do list that we are supposed to check off anyway, they are meant to be a spirit within our hearts and minds, a spirit of love, a spirit of love to be shared with others.
Paul says, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” The love that is behind the commandments is eternal. The love that I behind the commandments leads to eternal life.
Rejoice and be glad!