February 16, 2020 Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Welcome Father Cyril Today’s Readings: Sir 15:15-20 | 1 Cor 2:6-10 | Mt 5:17-37

People frequently refer to the Sermon on the Mount as being the New Law, replacing the Old Law, and the impression given is that, with Jesus, the rules have been somewhat loosened. Now it can be said that it is love that counts and that the rules take second place. But the error of this opinion is quickly evident when we check the eight Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon. Far from making life easier, the Sermon is even more demanding than the Old Law.

As God gradually revealed himself to the Chosen People, they began to understand that he loved them and wanted them to enjoy life in the land that he had given to them. In order for this to happen, they were to heed the warnings of the prophets and be faithful to God’s commandments.

Therefore, they must not kill. They must not steal. They must be faithful to their spouses and they must not envy their neighbour. Contrary to what some people suggest nowadays, the Chosen People understood that God wanted them to keep his laws because he loved them, and not because he wanted to make them wretched and unhappy.

We know this from God’s revelation of his loving nature in biblical texts such as the beautiful story of Hosea, whose love for his prostitute wife was analogous to the love that God had for his headstrong and sinful people. Through the prophets, God continually reminded them of his love, even as he pulled them back from the brink of destruction on many occasions. Indeed, in chapter 5 of the Book of Deuteronomy, we read that it was from God’s love that the Ten Commandments sprang. Before listing the commands, God reminded them: ‘I am YHWH your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’ (Deut 5:6).

During the Sermon on the Mount itself, Jesus told his listeners that he had not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets: ‘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’ (Mt 5:17-18).

To understand the implication of this key statement of Jesus, we might reflect that he sought not the end of the Law, not its destruction, but its perfection. Hence in the Sermon, Jesus taught that it is no longer sufficient not to kill one’s neighbour. In future, his disciples would be required to control their anger so that their thoughts were purified and perfected. One by one, this extension of the Ten Commandments to thoughts and motives as well as actions, is found throughout this unique Sermon.

Jesus reinforced the idea of Christian perfection by linking it to the worship of God. If his followers desired to approach the altar and, while there, remembered friction with another person or people, they would be expected to leave their gifts at the altar and go to be reconciled first. The lesson for us is clear. This is how seriously God views our human relationships. We cannot hate our neighbour and purport to love God. That is not possible.

A much overlooked exhortation in the Sermon concerns prevarication in speech: ‘All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one’ (Mt 5:37). The Sermon on the Mount, then, especially each of the Beatitudes, provides us with a rich mine of spiritual treasures that give us much food for meditation.

Source: John Litteton - Journeying through the Year of Matthew (https://www.catholicireland.net/?homilies=6-sun-ordinary-time) Image: “Christ de Wissembourg” - Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame de Strasbourg