February 12, 2023
Matthew 5: 17-37
This Sunday’s gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount some of which we have had put before us in the last two Sundays’ Liturgy of the Word. Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel, and this Sunday’s gospel in particular, reminds us how as followers of Jesus we need to change our thinking and acting in order to be agents of God’s reign among us. As we listen to the words ascribed to Jesus in this Sermon on the Mount, we hear him speaking with authority, with freedom and without constraint, and calling his disciples to a new way of understanding and interpreting the Law. Jesus does this in a way that no ordinary Jew would do, not ‘abolishing the Law’, but penetrating it with depth and insight, the fruit surely of his own reflection and prayer that give him the authority with which he speaks. ‘You have heard it said, but I say to you…’. As always Jesus is concerned with ordinary folk and their daily lives, the burdens they bear and the challenges they confront.
Jesus’ interpretation of the laws cited in this passage seems to be underpinned above all by what is good for people, the so-called common good. Each of the laws he refers to has, he implies, a deeper meaning to it than was often ascribed to by the religious leaders of the time, as maybe also in ours. It is this deeper meaning behind not only Religious law but all law that we are called to seek out and examine if we are faithful followers of this Master. It is this deeper meaning that needs to inform the choices we make, and the actions that accompany such choices.
For example, Jewish law condemned murder, but Jesus goes further and condemns the unchecked angry word and deed that might ultimately lead to murder, or the destruction of another’s good name. Jewish law condemned the act of adultery, and in particular the women caught in such situations (cf John 8:1-11). For Jesus, this ‘commandment’ is also about feelings, friendships and relationships. Oath-taking presupposed the tendency of human beings to lie. Jesus is calling his disciples to truthfulness at all times, rendering unnecessary the taking of oaths as a guarantee of one’s honesty.
Today’s Gospel calls us to ongoing reflection and action such as will help us contribute to the reign of our God, whom Jesus elsewhere calls his and our ‘Abba’. The first reading of this Sunday, from Ecclesiasticus, reminds us that we do have choices. Life is lived by the choices we make each day. Are the choices we make from all that life puts before us those that help the growth of God’s reign of compassion and love, of collaboration and sharing, or the opposite? The choice is ours! Ultimately it is up to each of us…me and you…to do our little bit by the choices we make, to create a world that is a better place for all . And isn’t this the wisdom spoken about in the 2nd reading for today, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?
Matthew 5: 17-37
Jesus said to 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. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife — unless the marriage is unlawful — causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”
The Gospel of the Lord