Religious rules are good and necessary, but Jesus wants his disciples to go beyond the letter of the law and fully live out its meaning, Pope Francis said.
"The commandments that God has given us must not be locked up in the airless vaults of formal observance; otherwise, we are limited to an exterior, detached religiosity, servants of 'God the master' rather than children of 'God the father,'" the pope said.
"Jesus wants this: not to have the idea of serving a God the master, but the father; and this is why it is necessary to go beyond the letter" of God's commandments, he said before praying the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter's Square Feb. 12.
The pope reflected on what Jesus meant when, in the day's Gospel reading (Mt 5:17-37), he told his disciples, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."
The pope said, "Jesus makes us understand that religious rules are necessary, they are good, but they are only the beginning: to fulfill them, it is necessary to go beyond the letter and live their meaning."
For example, he said, when sacred Scripture says, "Do not kill," not committing homicide is not enough for Jesus if that person still harms others with words.
"Do not commit adultery" is also "not enough if one then lives a love tainted by duplicity and falsehood," the pope added. "This is not fulfillment."
To not kill, steal or violate the other commandments is "formal observance, which is satisfied with the bare minimum, whereas Jesus invites us to aspire to the maximum possible," he said.
Jesus' message is clear, he said. "God loves us first, freely, taking the first step toward us, without us deserving it; and so we cannot celebrate his love without, in our turn, taking the first step toward reconciliation with those who have hurt us."
"In this way there is fulfillment in God's eyes, otherwise external, purely ritualistic observance is pointless, it becomes a pretense," he said.
Pope Francis asked people to review how they live their faith: as a series of "calculations, formalism or a love story with God? Am I content merely with not doing harm, of keeping the 'façade' in good order or do I try to grow in love for God and others?"
Jesus showed the way "by giving his life on the cross and forgiving his murderers," Pope Francis said, "and he entrusted to us the commandment most dear to him: that we love each other like he loved us."
"This is the love that gives fulfillment to the law, to faith, to true life!" he said.