6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s section of the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus quoting some of the ten commandments, given by God to Moses, and adding to them. He does it on his own authority, thus putting himself on a level with God. The Law was thought to be the summary of all wisdom, the revelation of God himself; implicitly for most Jews, the Law was the terminal revelation of God.
It was not the mission of Jesus to annul the Law. His mission was to fulfill it, to bring it to perfection. Jesus came to reveal the true meaning of the Old Testament, to express what the Law and the Prophets wished to say, and thus bring it to fulfillment. Jesus affirmed indirectly that the Law was imperfect, unfinished; he will perfect and finish it.
The ideal of holiness among scribes and the Pharisees was based on the literal reading of Scripture. External observance of the Law of Moses and the traditions will secure their righteousness. Jesus’ teaching is more radical and demanding. The righteousness of the disciples must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The observance, their religion, must be exercised out of love and sincerity, or they will not be worthy of heaven.
Jesus comes to fulfill the Law in the sense that he extends the law to the realm of conscience. Jesus tells us that we could keep the letter of the Law and yet fail awfully where the spirit is concerned. More than that: we could observe it externally and violate it internally. Sin and virtue are essentially matters of the mind and heart. Sin comes from inside even though it may be triggered off by something outside. And we don’t even have to go as far as the act itself; seriously wanting it is enough. The outward action is but the visible manifestation of an interior reality, and it is in the secret of the heart that the debate between good and evil is settled.
The moral value of our actions is not to be judged by external appearances, but by the intimate decisions which inspire them. Moreover, Christ tells us that an interior desire freely accepted is sufficient in itself to qualify as morally wrong. We can sin in our thoughts, desires, motives, attitudes. Sin comes from within. Murder had already been forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but Jesus plumbs in the center of the murderous heart. It is an unwillingness to forgive: If you bring your gift to the altar… How different would our Eucharists be if we took Jesus seriously? The resentments one holds against parents, children, spouse, neighbors… would have to melt before we can approach the altar, let we receive the sacrament unworthily. Perhaps that is why our Communion is aptly preceded by the sign of peace.
Adultery was forbidden of old. But Jesus refers to the lust that underlies the adultery… Jesus unmasks the injustice (especially against women) and the adultery that so often accompanies divorce… In matters of discipleship Jesus does not allow ifs, ands or buts. Say yes when you mean yes… The Sermon on the Mount thwarts our attempts to compromise our faith or set aside privileged parts of our lives that we shield from the law of God: If your right eye is your trouble…
Our meager hearts feel diminished by the Lord’s standards. Who of us has not broken promises, or harbored resentment, or acted lustfully, or sworn vengeance…? We all fall short. And therefore we all must not judge. The Sermon on the Mount is not there to cast us down into hopeless guilt. No, it is an invitation to that holiness that we have hitherto not seen or heard about. We must have the courage to search our hearts, and lay bare our hidden motives, desires, thoughts, attitudes, and intentions. These are often more revealing, and tell us more about the kind of people we are, than our external acts.