Thursday, June 14, 2018
1) Opening prayer
God of wisdom and love,
source of all good,
send Your Spirit to teach us Your truth
and guide our actions
in Your way of peace.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 5:20-26
Jesus said to his disciples: "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into 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 his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his 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 with him. 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."
• The text of today’s Gospel is placed in a lager unity: Mt 5:20 to Mt 5:48. In this Matthew shows us how Jesus interpreted and explained the Law of God. Five times He repeats the phrase, “You have heard how it was said to our ancestors, but I say to you!” (Mt 5:21,27,33,38,43). According to some Pharisees, Jesus was eliminating the law. But it was exactly the contrary. He said, “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them” (Mt 5:17). Before the Law of Moses, Jesus has an attitude of rupture and of continuity. He breaks away from the mistaken interpretation which was closed up in the prison of the letter, but He affirms categorically the last objective of the law: to attain the greatest justice, which is Love.
Jesus tells us the same thing every parent knows. If a child is running toward the street full of busy cars, it isn’t just a problem when he gets into the road! The parent does not even want the child to go in that direction! While sin and separation from God may have clear lines in the commandments, it is better to not run in that direction in the first place. The Pharisees were more intent on drawing a line at the edge of the road than in helping others to stay away from the traffic.
• In the communities for which Matthew writes his Gospel there were diverse opinions concerning the Law of Moses. For some, it no longer had any sense, for others it should be observed even up to the minimum details. Because of this there were many conflicts and disputes. Some said of the others that they were stupid and idiotic. Matthew tries to help both groups to understand the true meaning of the Law and presents some counsels of Jesus to help them face and overcome the conflicts which arose within the families and the communities.
• Matthew 5:20: Your justice should surpass that of the Pharisees. This first verse gives the general key to everything which follows in Mt 5:20-48. The Evangelist indicates to the communities how they should practice a greater justice which surpasses the justice of the scribes and the pharisees and which leads to the full observance of the law. Then, after this general key to a greater justice, Matthew quotes five very concrete examples of how to practice the Law, in such a way that its observance leads to the perfect practice of love. In the first example of today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals what God wanted in giving Moses the fifth commandment, “Do not kill!”
• Matthew 5:21-22: Do not kill. “You have heard how it was said to our ancestors, you shall not kill and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court." (Ex. 20:13). To observe fully this fifth commandment it is not sufficient to avoid murdering. It is necessary to uproot from within oneself everything which in one way or other can lead to murder, for example, anger, hatred, the desire of vengeance, exploitation, etc. “anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court”. That is, anyone who is angry against the brother merits or deserves the same punishment of condemnation by the court which, according to the ancient law, was reserved to the murderer! But Jesus goes beyond all this. He wants to uproot the origin of murder: “Anyone who calls a brother ‘Fool’ will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and anyone who calls him ‘Traitor’ will answer for it in hell fire.” In other words, I truly observe the commandment not to kill if I succeed in taking away from my heart any sentiment of anger which leads to insult a brother. That is, if I attain the perfection of love.
This is also the basis for an understanding of vice versus virtue. For Jesus, it isn’t enough to just avoid vice, but to work to attain the corresponding virtue. If one defines murder as only killing the body, but hurting the person is acceptable, then one can never get to the point of love. This is where Jesus is moving His followers and the community. Many of Jesus’ parables are like this, such as the Good Samaritan. It is not enough to pass by and ignore a brother. Love requires the opposite. He begins to recast the Commandments from Laws that can be distorted, as do the Pharisees, into a way to live in love.
• Matthew 5:23-24: The perfect worship wanted by God. “If you are bringing your offering to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back sand present your offering.” In order to be accepted by God, and be united to Him, it is necessary to be reconciled with the brother and with the sister. Before the destruction of the Temple, in the year 70, when the Christians still participated in the pilgrimages to Jerusalem to take their offering to the altar of the Temple, they always remembered this statement of Jesus. Now in the years 80’s, the time in which Matthew writes, the Temple and the Altar no longer existed. The community itself had become the Temple and the Altar of God (1Cor 3:16). In the light of the Lord’s Prayer: “give us this day” and “as we forgive”, there is now a mandate for reconciling with another daily for Christians, rather than just before a trip to the altar.
• Matthew 5:25-26: To be reconciled. One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew most insists on is reconciliation, because in the communities of that time there were many tensions among the groups which had different tendencies, without any dialogue. Nobody wanted to give in or cede before the other. Matthew enlightens this situation with the words of Jesus on reconciliation which demand acceptance and understanding. Because the only sin which God does not forgive is our lack of forgiveness of others (Mt 6:14). For this reason, he writes of reconciliation first, before it is too late.
• The ideal of greatest justice. Five times, Jesus quotes a commandment or a usage of the ancient law: Do not kill. (Mt 5:21), Do not commit adultery (Mt 5:27), Do not bear false witness (Mt 5:33), Eye for eye, tooth for tooth (5:38), To love neighbor and to hate the enemy (Mt 5:43). And five times He criticizes the ancient way of observing these commandments and He indicates a new way to attain justice, the objective of the law (Mt 5:22-26; 5:28-32; 5:34-37; 5:39-42; 5:44-48). The word Justice is present seven times in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 3:15; 5:6,10,20; 6:1.33; 21:32). The religious ideal of the Jews of that time was “to be just before God.” The Pharisees taught that a person attains justice before God when he/she observes all the norms of the Law in all its details. This teaching resulted in a legalistic oppression and produced much anguish in people of good will, because it was very difficult for a person to be able to observe all the norms (Rm 7:21-24). This is why Matthew takes some words of Jesus on justice, showing that this leads a person to surpass the justice of the Pharisees (Mt 5:20). For Jesus, justice does not come from what I do for God observing the law, but from what God does for me, accepting me with love, like a son, like a daughter. The new ideal that Jesus proposes is this: "To be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect!” (Mt 5:48). That means that I will be just before God, if I try to accept and to forgive people as God accepts and forgives me gratuitously in spite of my many defects and sins.
4) Personal questions
• What are the more frequent conflicts in my family and in our community? How would they end if they were recast in the way that Jesus presents here?
• Rewrite each Commandment, moving away from it’s extreme interpretation and into the way Jesus does here, then rephrase them into a positive way. Do you see that each becomes an example of love?
• How can Jesus’ advice help me to improve relationships in the sphere of our family and of the community, especially when recast in a positive way of love?
For further study
The Catechism explains the Virtues as Theological Virtues and Cardinal Virtues, as well as their opposites as Vices. Many saints, such as St. Francis de Sales and St Ignatius of Loyola give guidance on living in virtue and avoiding vice. Take time today to look at some of these writings and see how Jesus’ new way of looking at the Law guides us "To be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect!” (Mt 5:48).
5) Concluding Prayer
Lord, You visit the earth and make it fruitful,
You fill it with riches;
the river of God brims over with water,
You provide the grain. (Ps 65:9)