6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 12th February, 2017

Liturgical Reflection

Based on the Gospel Passage - Matthew 5: 17-37


Within the first 3 years of my teaching career (at a Catholic high School), an interesting discipline situation arose at the school. One of our students (a 16 year old girl), had broken into the school on the weekend. To complicate matters further, the girl’s father was a teacher at the school. The principal of the school decided to discuss the matter openly at a staff meeting, and ask the staff their opinion on the course of discipline to be followed. The big question to be decided was whether to report the incident to police or not. The staff were unanimous there must be a suspension implemented, but there was much consternation about police involvement.

I had taught the girl in question and knew she could be difficult and felt that since she had broken the law, by unlawfully entering school property, she should be reported to the police. A number of staff also held this same view. Others however, argued that due to the fact no property had been damaged, nor had anything been stolen, it would be more compassionate not to report the incident to police, but deal with it “in house”.

The debate went on for some time, but eventually a decision was made not to report the incident to the police. Despite this decision, the discussions continued on in the staff rooms for many days to come. Accusations were made about weak leadership and these were countered with commendations of compassion and mercy. For the record, I eventually moved from the hard line camp to the compassionate camp, but only after many years, when I better understood the need for mercy and compassion in discipline. As the old adage goes - with age comes wisdom.

In our challenging gospel passage this Sunday, we see Jesus encouraging his followers to follow the spirit of the law rather than be obsessed with the letter of the law. When I think back to the incident mentioned above, I think I was obsessed with the law rather than its spirt and did not take into account the long term consequences it could have had on the girl.

During the recent extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we were encouraged to rediscover the need to be “merciful like the Father”. Hopefully we discovered the need to be merciful with those who don’t fulfil the law of faith as the law dictates. Just as Jesus did not come to do away with the law but complete/fulfil it, so too mercy does not do away with the law, but brings it to complete fulfilment and needs to work with the law.

Mark Wilson