Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Living the Law

With this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we move into the part of the Sermon on the Mount that scholars call the six antitheses.

Feb 10, 2017

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Readings: Sirach 15:16-21
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37

With this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we move into the part of the Sermon on the Mount that scholars call the six antitheses. The label intends to highlight the fact that here, six times in a row, the words of Jesus follow a pattern that goes, “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you … ” Here we meet Jesus asserting an authority even greater than that of Moses. In our awe, we can miss the bite and challenge of Jesus’ words.

As an ear-opening exercise, let’s listen carefully to what Jesus says in the antithesis about murder. He begins by citing the commandment and its consequence: whoever kills will be liable to judgment. “Judgment” here is not punishment after death but a reference to the juridical process of a trial. The law says, “Kill and you shall be tried for it.” Jesus then asserts, “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to the same judgment.”

At this point, the rational listener is supposed to say, “Wait a minute! You can‘t litigate about anger. There’s no deed, no action to take to court.” Jesus’ implied answer is, “Right. Don’t think you are obeying the Torah on murder just because you haven’t killed. I am calling you to something that the law can’t reach, the disposition of your heart. If you want to forestall violence, deal with the anger in your heart.”

If we catch the point of this first example, the meaning of the rest of the verse falls into place. And whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, “You fool,” will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Raqa is an insult term like our “you fool,” and already we are standing before the Jerusalem Supreme Court! “You fool” is still in the realm of trash talk, not violent action, and now the consequence has escalated to damnation. This is parody. Jesus is imitating the language of legalistic calibration matching punishment to crime, all to the same point: “I am challenging you to a purity of heart that the calculus of the law cannot reach. So don’t be complacent that you haven’t killed yet.”
In short, Jesus does not make new laws; for living the law, he brings a new vision and a new help — a refreshed covenant relationship with God. --By Prof Fr Dennis Hamm, SJ

Thoughts From The Early Church

Such was said to your ancestors, but I am speaking to you.

Christ gave his life for you, and do you hold a grudge against your fellow servant? How then can you approach the table of peace? Your Master did not refuse to undergo every kind of suffering for you, and will you not even forgo your anger? Why is this, when love is the root, the wellspring and the mother of every blessing?

He has offered me an outrageous insult, you say. He has wronged me times without number, he has endangered my life. Well, what is that? He has not yet crucified you as the Jewish elders crucified the Lord. If you refuse to forgive your neighbour’s offence, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins either. What does your conscience say when you repeat the words: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” and the rest?
Christ went so far as to offer his blood for the salvation of those who shed it. What could you do that would equal that? If you refuse to forgive your enemy, you harm not him but yourself. You have indeed harmed him frequently in this present life, but you have earned for yourself eternal punishment on the day of judgment. There is no one God detests and repudiates more than the person who bears a grudge, whose heart is filled with anger, whose soul is seething with rage.

Listen to the Lord’s words: “If you are bringing your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first go and be reconciled. Then come and offer your gift.”

What do you mean? Am I really to leave my gift, my offering there? Yes, he says, because this sacrifice is offered in order that you may live in peace with your neighbour. If then the attainment of peace with your neighbour is the object of the sacrifice and you fail to make peace, even if you share in the sacrifice your lack of peace will make this sharing fruitless. Before all else therefore, make peace, for the sake of which the sacrifice is offered. Then you will really benefit from it.

The reason the Son of God came into the world was to reconcile the human race with the Father. As Paul says: “Now he has reconciled all things to himself, destroying enmity in himself by the cross.” Consequently, as well as coming himself to make peace, he also calls us blessed if we do the same, and shares his title with us. “Blessed are the peacemakers, he says, for they shall be called children of God.”

So, as far as a human being can, you must do what Christ the Son of God did, and become a promoter of peace, both for yourself and for your neighbour. Christ calls the peacemaker a child of God. The only good deed he mentions as essential at the time of sacrifice is reconciliation with one’s brother or sister. This shows that, of all the virtues, the most important is love. -- John Chrsostom (c. 347-407)

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