CHRIST, THE SUPREME JUDICIAL OFFICER
First Reading: Ecclesiasticus 15:16-21
Responsorial Psalm 118(119):1-2,4-5,17-18,33-34
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:17-37
The term “Government” is definitely not new to one who has attained the age of reasoning in society, because it deals directly with that which pertains to the welfare of every individual. A typical high school student already knows what the three branches of Government entail: Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary. That the Legislative branch makes the laws, the Executive branch enforces the laws, and the Judicial branch interprets the laws is also generally understood by the educated majority. This is well taught and explained at school. Having this requisite knowledge of ‘government’ makes it easier to understand Christ generally in the Gospel of Matthew as the lawmaker, enforcer, and ideal interpreter of the Law of God. Little wonder the Matthean community (or the community of Matthew) understood Jesus as the “New Moses,” one who has not come to abolish the Law but to bring it to fulfillment.
For some Sundays now, we have been hearing Christ interpreting the Law, as the gospel of Matthew presents him to us. The gospel according to Matthew has been understood to possess a doctrinal character reflected in the five discourses of Christ. These five discourses correspond to the five books of the Pentateuch. Just as Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai and teaches the people, Christ also interprets and teaches the Law in five discourses beginning with the “Sermon on the Mount” as the first of Christ’s discourses (see Matthew Chapter 5 – 7). Here, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God and its demands. He started by preaching the Beatitudes. As we heard three Sundays ago, and consequently, “Salt for the earth” and “Light for the world” (as we heard last Sunday). On hearing Christ’s interpretation of the Law in this manner, the people thought he had come to change everything about the Law. However, last Sunday’s gospel reflects Christ’s clarification on the matter: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.” This way, the community of Matthew comprehends Christ as the New Moses, and in fact, one who is greater than Moses; the one who has the sole authority to interpret and fulfill the Law.
Today’s Gospel Reading (cf. Mat. 5:20-26) reflects a part of Christ’s sermon, which presupposes going deeper in living out the law of God, a deeper way of loving God and our neighbour and not just attaching ourselves to the letters of the laws alone as the Pharisees and Teachers of the law did. Little wonder he said: “For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” And going to interpret the Law, He recalls the Old Law: “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court.” After this, He interprets it with authority, saying: “But I say this to you…” This way, He not only speaks against killing but also the occasions and circumstances that may lead one to kill his fellowman – anger, foul language etc. The Pharisees who were noted as the interpreters and teachers of the Jewish Law would stop at “thou shall not kill”; however, for Christ, the Supreme Judicial Officer, it is not enough to stay away from killing another man, but also to avoid situations that offend and harm others. Consequently, He proposes a way of fraternal reconciliation as an indispensable tool for resolving conflicts. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. Thus, the fifth commandment does not only forbid the killing of another but also the occasions that might lead to killing a fellow man, such as anger, hatred, violence, vengeance, etc. Here, Christ forbids violence, retaliation, and repaying evil with evil, but calls us to become like him in virtues – “Christ-like.”
Going further, Christ interprets the law of adultery which transcends a superficial observance of the moral code. Here, Jesus insists that adultery, the violation of the sixth commandment, is also committed through wilfully generated impure thoughts and desires which are willingly sustained in the mind. He teaches us that our hands become agents of sin according to what we touch and how we touch, in lust or greed or violence. Our eyes become agents of sins according to what they look at. When Jesus recommends the mutilation of eyes and hands, he is not speaking literally, because we have more sins than we have body parts. Besides, even if all offending parts were removed, our minds — the source of all sins – would still be intact, causing us to sin by thoughts and desires. So, Jesus teaches us that, just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body, like an infected gall bladder, inflamed appendix, etc., in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us to commit grave sins. Hence, these warnings are actually about our attitudes, dispositions, and inclinations. Jesus recommends that our hands become agents of compassion, healing and comfort and that our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty around us. Above all, Jesus goes on to teach against divorce and also on the need of being faithful to one’s oath/promises.
Dear friends in Christ, our Lord wants us to embrace a deeper (Christian) virtue – a virtue that goes beyond the superficial virtues of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time. This can be achieved by being receptive to God’s grace and divine wisdom. As we see in the second reading where St. Paul here contrasts the wisdom of the prevailing Greek culture with the wisdom of God, advising Christians to seek true wisdom in God’s revelation.
Dear friends in Christ, there should be no compromise with the prevailing culture when it comes to keeping God’s law. God never forces us to do good or evil. It is our free choice to obey or disobey God’s laws, and we are responsible for the serious consequences of our choices. This is the clearest statement in all of the canonical and deuterocanonical Old Testament writings on the subject of human free will. This reading and the Gospel lend solemnity and authority to each other. And lending complementarity, the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 119), declares in verse 2, “Blessed are they who observe His decrees, who seek Him with all their heart”
May the good Lord continue to bless his words in our hearts, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Mediros, São Paulo
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?