6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Simham)
For the past few weeks we have been hearing the gospels from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which is Mathew’s great composition. For Mathew, Jesus is the new Moses who came to liberate people from their bondage of sin and he is also the great law-giver. As Moses went up to the mountain to receive the law, Jesus goes up to the mountain to give the new law, or the new teaching.
First, He taught his followers the ‘Beatitudes’, which contain the values on which he placed great importance. They are supposed to be the attitudes of his disciples attuned to the kingdom of God which he has come to establish. Then he told them that these beatitudes are supposed to be lived and practised in a community as ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’.
And in today’s gospel, he teaches the ethics of the kingdom. In the series of slightly six anti-thesis beginning with “You have heard it said………..but I say to you…..” clauses Jesus dares to modify or correct what God said through Moses, this is what the Scribes and Pharisees thought. But what he was doing here is that he is not modifying or correcting the law, but he is making the demands of the law more penetrating and more meaningful. He is making them to understand and follow the spirit of the law rather than following the ‘letter of the law’. Because what he found is that the law as practised by Scribes and Pharisees has lost its teeth. It has lost it true meaning as the Scribes and Pharisees stressed more on the external observances than the internal meaning.
Let me tell a story to illustrate what I mean. It’s the story of a boy called Jack who always wanted to carry out his mother’s commands to the best of his ability. His mother once asked him to bring a goat from the market. He purchased a goat, put it on his shoulders and bent down with the weight, came staggering and sweating all the way home. His mother said, “How stupid you are! You should have tied a rope around its neck and dragged it along. Next day his mother asked him to bring a kilo of meat from the butcher’s. The boy tied it to a rope, as his mother had instructed him, and dragged the meat on the muddy road home. His mother being horrified on seeing the terrible condition of the meat, scolded him and told him that he should have wrapped the meat in a paper and carried it on his head instead. The next time, the ever obedient Jack was asked to bring some butter. As expected, he carried it on his head. It melted in the scorching sun and trickled down his face till there was hardly any butter left to give to his mother.
Well, like jack, the scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus spent their lives being faithful to the letter of the Law, the Torah, while ignoring its spirit. With their emphasis on the externals of religion they had missed out on the core, the weightier demands of the Law. So Jesus was challenging His disciples to go to the basics, the essentials and the more radical implications of the Law. It is in this context he says, ‘your righteousness should exceed that of Pharisees and Scribes’. For Pharisees and Scribes righteousness or being virtuous means obeying the externals of the law. But for Jesus that is not the real righteousness. For him it begins in the heart and the disposition of the mind. Taking four concrete laws and traditions, he tells them what it means to obey them.
For example, ‘Do not kill’ is the law. As per Jesus interpretation, we should not think that we are saints because we have not murdered anyone. What about the about the rage and resentment deep down in your hearts? Love which is the basis of all law does not give in to anger and hostility.”
Secondly, there is a law which prohibits adultery. The Lord again takes us to a deeper understanding. It is not enough to say, “l didn’t have an affair with a married woman.” What about the lust in our eyes and the burning desire for a woman in our heart? Love is not lustful but respectful of every woman you meet” And this rule applies to the other sex as well.
The third antithesis deals with the subject of divorce. To understand this section of Matthew’s gospel we need to balance it out with Christ’s clear rejection of divorce found in other gospel passages (see Mt l9:3—l2; Mk l0: 2-l2; Luke l6:18).The message is clear: Love is faithful to the end.
And the fourth antithesis deals with not swearing falsely but being true to the oaths we have taken. Jesus seems to say: “What need is there to bolster up what you say with an oath? No need to swear at all. Just be honest and straightforward. Say ‘yes’ when you mean yes, and ‘No’ when you mean no. Love is truthful.”
When we go beyond the letter of the law to the spirit that gives it life, we find that in fact we are really called to love. This love does not harbour anger and hostility. It is not lustful but respectful. Love is truthful, honest, straightforward, and faithful to the end. That is the lesson for us today. Amen.
Fr. Showreelu Simham