Both the shorter and longer versions of the Gospel (Matthew 5:17-37) at this past weekend’s Mass portray parts of Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. This portion of Our Lord’s preaching contains, what scholars call, the “antithesis statements.” Our Lord takes a piece of the Mosaic Law and interprets it definitively according to the demands Christian discipleship. Needless to say, Jesus is not content to preach lax morals.
Before looking at Our Lord’s words we need to accept the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture. This requires us to have the supernatural virtue of faith. The contents of Sacred Scripture are our handbook for salvation. St Paul through his Second Letter to Timothy reminds us that, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (3:16-17). Each of us, then, should strive to internalize each of Our Lord’s teachings. When a person is given the grace to recognize that an area of his life is at odds with Our Lord’s teaching, then he needs to quickly mend his ways and repent.
In Matthew 5:17-37, Our Lord does not nullify the precepts of the Old Law. On the contrary, Jesus provides the definitive interpretation and fulfillment of Mosiac Law. Mere external conformity to the Mosiac Law is not enough. For this reason it is important to look deeper into a few parts of Our Lord’s preaching:
- Our Lord’s expansion of the prohibition against unjust killing, tells us to avoid the kind of anger and critical speech which wounds other people and destroys relationships. Who models this better than Jesus himself who showed the highest patience as he endured the crucifixion?
- Likewise, Jesus takes the 6th commandment (which forbids adultery) and expands it to condemn all lustful thoughts. Lust is the selfish desire which seeks to use other people for one’s own pleasure. To increase in sanctity, one needs to remove the roots of sinful actions so that he can love freely. So intense is Our Lord’s concern for our sanctification that he tells us to remove anything which serves as an occasion for sin. Every person should be quick to recognize a source of sin, because frequent exposure to near occasions of sin weakens one’s will, erodes one’s soul, and leads him to hell.
- Every authentic marriage has a bond which is unbreakable by anything except death. It does not matter if both parties agree to a divorce or whether a government sanctions it. A person who was once married cannot be married again while their spouse is alive. Unfortunately, our culture does little to support Our Lord’s teaching on marriage. The result of this is that many people enter into marriages which are not authentic on account of some deformity with the consent aspect. In many cases this stems from a lack of maturity, discretion, honesty or content. In other cases, a marriage is not authentic because it does not follow the marriage laws of the Church. Any person who is divorced would do well to speak to a priest, deacon or pastoral associate about the possibility of receiving a declaration of nullity (annulment).
- Any person who is in his right mind should be able to see that it is never licit to make a false oath. Oaths or swearing are a special way of promising that something is true by calling upon God as the witness. The supposition is that God is honest and that a person making an oath would justly lose a place in God’s kingdom if his words make God seem a liar. Jesus means to tell us that honesty should always be the way by which we speak. If a person is always honest, then it is unnecessary to call upon God under ordinary circumstances. This prohibition, however, does not extend to certain solemn oaths such as those which are required to assume public office or before giving testimony in court.
If we don’t want ourselves or our families to be led to hell, then we need to cling to each one of Christ’s teachings. Christ’s teachings make us happy and holy and fill our hearts with love. They make us happy and holy because they give us a share of the eternal blessedness of Heaven. Christ’s teachings fill our hearts with love because they are the way by which Christ himself loved us.