UNDERSTANDING THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT OF THE LAW AS INTERPRETED BY THE ‘DIVINE JUDICIARY’
First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9,11-16
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 26(27):7-9,13-14
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:27-32
The term “Government” is definitely not new to one who has attained the age of reasoning in the 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 the ideal interpreter of the Law of God. Little wonder the community of Matthew understands Jesus as the “New Moses,” one who has not come to abolish the Law but to bring it to fulfilment.
For some days now, we have been hearing Christ interpreting the Law, as the gospel of Matthew presents him to us. Today’s message apparently centres around the fifth commandment and its interpretation by Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, ‘You shall not kill,’ and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.” (CCC #2262). Needless to say, 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. Today, we hear from the Supreme Judicial Officer (Christ), “You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well..” Here, Christ forbids violence, retaliation, and repaying evil with evil, but calls us to become like him in virtues – “Christ-like.”
Unfortunately, the reverse application of this teaching is what we read in the first reading. Here, we hear of Naboth’s sad story which illustrates the victory of violence over the poor. Put differently, when King Ahab asked him for his (Naboth’s) piece of land in exchange for money or another land, Naboth strongly refused. This later led to his unjust death, plotted by Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. One might think, wouldn’t Naboth have done better to hand over the vineyard to Ahab, who even offered him money for it or the exchange for another? But no, he couldn’t do that because it was not just a property or any property. Selling or exchanging that vineyard jeopardizes his vocation as an Israelite, who took care of a part of the land as a sacred heritage. That was why Naboth replies to Ahab: ‘The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors!’ in Naboth’s case, we not only see a case of violence over the poor but a clear case of repaying good with evil, because Naboth was an honest Israelite who worked for the king.
Dear friends in Christ, today’s teaching entails learning how to control our temper when we are angry or ‘mad’ about something/someone, and avoid retaliation. Many have killed today, not because they planned it, but because they allowed their anger to rule them or probably retaliated when they were provoked, and as a result, they end up regretting their actions and later attribute it to the devil. With Christ, we can learn to ‘live and let live,’ and avoid retaliation/vengeance. God hates such behaviour, as today’s psalmist expresses: “You hate all who do evil; you destroy all who lie. The deceitful and bloodthirsty man the Lord detests.”
May the Lord continually fill us with His grace in order to live up to our expectations as Christians, growing deeper in virtue and living in accordance with God’s Law as interpreted by our Lord Jesus Christ.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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