Gospel according to Matthew [Mt 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37] (ShortForm)
JESUS SAID to his disciples: “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.
“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.
“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. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”***
Our Gospel today and the Gospel of next Sunday together form an integral section of Jesus’ profound Sermon on the Mount; this one lengthy section (Matthew 5:17-48) extends for 32 verses. It is commonly called Jesus’ “six antitheses.” We know that an “antithesis” is an alternate assertion different from the original “thesis.” Thus, Jesus is giving a new or more profound interpretation of six basic elements of the Jewish law.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) begins with Jesus going up on a mountain, just as Moses went up Mount Sinai. Then, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes, just as Moses gave the people the Ten Commandments. Next, Jesus makes a pivotal statement; he asserts: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill them” (5:17). Indeed, Jesus is not doing away with the Mosaic Laws found in the Old Testament; he is completing them, giving them a new and profound interpretation.
A New Perspective. Following upon his purpose in reinterpreting the commandments, Jesus goes on to describe six concrete ways in which his new law supersedes the old law. He uses a standard way of speaking: “You have heard how it was said [in the old law]…, however, I say to you….” He first quotes the Mosaic injunction, then proceeds to give it a new, deeper, more “radical” interpretation. Note that the Mosaic Law remains valid, but as a Christian follower of Jesus, we must go deeper in fulfilling the demands of the law. It is not enough just to follow the external demands of the law; we must fulfill them wholeheartedly—with renewed motivation.
Allow me to paraphrase each of the six antitheses:
(1) Moses said: “Do not murder.” Jesus says: “Do not hate anyone or even be angry with another.”
(2) Moses said: “Do not commit adultery.” Jesus says: “Avoid all lustful thoughts and illicit desires.”
(3) Moses said: “If you divorce, give your spouse a divorce notice.” Jesus says: “Do not be the first to break the marriage relationship.”
(4) Moses said: “Make all your oaths in Yahweh’s name.” Jesus says: “Remember that any promise is always made before God.”
(5) The Mosaic Law asserted: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus says: “Always do good—even to those who oppose you.”
(6) Moses asserted: “Love your neighbor (meaning your fellow-Jew).” Jesus says: “Love even your enemies, for that is actually what God does. Then, you will be rewarded by God.” Indeed, Jesus is setting a very high moral standard for us as his disciples!
Jesus’ Claim. Note another striking fact: Jesus always says: “I say to you.” This is very significant. Jesus is actually reinterpreting the God-given Mosaic Law, and he is doing it on his own authority! Who can validly reinterpret God’s law? Only God can do that. Thus, when Jesus says: “I say to you,” he Is claiming to act with God’s authority, to be God himself. As Christians, we follow Jesus, because we truly believe that he is none other than God himself, incarnated in human flesh. Jesus’ teachings are profoundly challenging! We strive to follow them with renewed hearts, always relying on God’s abundant grace and mercy!
— Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM