The Gospel According to Matthew – 2017.02.12
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
‘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.
‘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. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.
‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.
‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’
The divine way is simple and elegant, and it is also the greatest of mysteries and the most difficult of challenges.
The writers of Matthew’s Gospel attempted to summarize Jesus’ teaching on the law. Those who had known Jesus, or had been instructed in the faith by those who had, they believed sincerely that they knew what was in Jesus’ heart.
Nevertheless, their summary of it fell short of the mark, because, as with all matters pertaining to the divine, to God, the creator of the universe, our human understanding falls short.
Know this, in this passage, the kingdom of heaven which Jesus refers to, is not a place beyond this world. It is the world we live in, not as it is, but as it could be, if we and it were free from sin.
Know this, the hell which the gospels refer to is not a place beyond this world, it is not the diametric opposite of heaven, it is the place where we are, as we are still caught up in the inclination toward sin.
We have a choice, a choice we can exercise right now; to live in the divine way, in a community of peace and love, or to live in a world a strife and pain.
If we chose the way, no matter how much we may desire it, we cannot have it, be in it, bring others to it, if we are not reconciled to the community that we live in. If we hold a grudge, if there is enmity, we must address this first and bring it to the place of healing. We have departed from the way (or have never entered it) if we do not.
In the divine way, our deeds matter, yes, the things we do matter, but our intentions matter as much or more.
A person may not be a thief, but if they covet their neighbor’s possessions there is no peace between them. What we hold in our heart, that determines the nature of our relationships.
Forgive and be forgiven, this is not a transaction, it is a simple injunction.
Let go of the hardness and covetousness in your heart, accept the understanding and mercy that is offered to you.
Be loved, and love.
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time