THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Lesson 12 Chapters 6:19-7:28
The Sermon on the Mount Concluded
Teaching About the Public Life of the Christian Disciple and the Practice of Righteousness
Beloved Heavenly Father.
In the Sermon on the Mount Your Son has laid out for us the path to heaven. It is a path that demands a holiness of heart and a firmness of character. It is not an easy path, but it is the path to glory and its destination is our true home. Treading this narrow path to salvation requires both spiritual abandonment and intellectual knowledge on the part of the faith filled disciple. As Christians we must trust completely on Christ to lead the way as He gives us His own life in the Eucharist to nourish us on our journey and the teachings of Mother Church to keep us on the right path. Guide us now, most beloved Holy Spirit, as we study our last lesson on the Sermon on the Mount, as we pray in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
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TEACHING ABOUT THE PUBLIC LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE
Therefore I tell
you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and
what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than
clothing. [...]. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be
given you besides. Do not be afraid any longer little flock, for your
Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
Luke 12:22, 31-32.
In His teaching about almsgiving, prayer and fasting (Mt 6:1-18), Jesus was addressing the private, hidden life of the Christian disciple (CCC 1969). However, in Matthew 6:19-34 Jesus is concerned with the Christian disciple's public life, addressing issues concerning material possessions, food and drink, clothing, and worldly ambition. He addresses these issues by contrasting the choice between:
and intimately the choice between
Matthew 6:19-21 ~ Treasure in Heaven: (Jesus continued addressing His disciples, saying) "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart be."
In this passage Jesus is contrasting earthly treasures as opposed to heavenly rewards.
Question: How are earthly treasures limited in value?
How do they compare to heavenly rewards?
Answer: Earthly treasures are temporary, corruptible and therefore insecure while heavenly treasures are eternal, incorruptible and forever secure.
Question: What is Jesus prohibiting when He tells us
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...? Is this verse in
contradiction to Prov 6:6-11?
Answer: Jesus forbids the selfish accumulation of goods which flaunts the needs of the poor. He is not imposing a ban on all possessions, nor is He forbidding us to "stock up" and save in time of famine. Scripture praises the ant that stores up in the summer for what it will need in the winter and criticizes as foolish those who make no provisions for their families or the future.
Question: What does Jesus mean when He says For
where your treasure is there also will you heart be?
Answer: It is a fantasy to believe that security and happiness lies in the abundance of worldly possessions. If your "heart" is set on material goods, that will be your "treasure" as opposed to setting your "heart" on God and His heavenly kingdom as your "treasure."
Referring to the heart (as Jesus has frequently done in His sermon as a metaphor for the true reflection of a person), Jesus is telling Christians that our "hearts" always follow what is dearest to us. If your heart follows the world, you belong to the world, but if your heart is turned to heaven, heaven is where you belong. Jesus will repeat this teaching in Luke 12:33-34, using the same images as He used in this passage but He will encourage an even higher standard: Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart will be too.
Matthew 6: 22-26 ~ Light versus darkness in serving God
versus serving the world:
(Jesus continued) "The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be. 24 No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Question: What contrast is Jesus making in this
passage as opposed to the last passage?
Answer: Jesus turns from the contrast between two treasures to the contrast between two conditions, the sighted and the blind - light versus darkness, and between the two masters - God or the world.
He uses the figure of speech the eye is the lamp of the body to illustrate that our eyes make the world visible to us in the same way a lamp makes a dark room visible. In this verse the "eye is the lamp" is a metaphor used in the same way Jesus used the heart as a metaphor for the true depth of a person's being. Just as blindness leads to darkness, a person who turns away from God is also in "darkness" "so too the eye gives "light" to the body just as one who walks with God is in the light. It is a question of right and wrong "vision" whether we have our eyes on God who illuminates our lives or we live in darkness without God and are subjects of the world.
Question: This passage in Matthew 6:19-23 gives two
reasons for laying up our treasure in heaven and not on earth. What are
the two reasons?
Question: What is the key verse in this passage (and
the key verse in this entire section) that speaks of a third contrast in
addition to earthly treasure versus heavenly treasure and light versus darkness?
What does it mean?
Answer: Matthew 6:24 is the key verse of this entire section: No one can be the slave of two masters... God and the values of the world are not compatible. We must choose one or the other for God must be served with a sincere and exclusive devotion.
Matthew 6: 25-34 ~ Depending on God: (Jesus said) "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? 27 Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? 28 Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. 29 But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. 30 If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry and say, What are we to eat? Or What are we to drink?' or What are we to wear?' 32 All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these will be given you besides. 34 Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."
Jesus' "Therefore," oun in the Greek, indicates that this passage is a summing up and a conclusion on His teaching on the public life of the Christian disciple and the accumulation of earthy possessions. The Christian must compare the security of the two treasures, the usefulness of the two eye conditions, and the worth of the two masters:
|The Two Treasures:||
|The Two Eye Conditions:||
darkness to the body
a light to the body
|The Two Masters||
the false, temporary master
the true, good and eternal master
And when we have made the choice for heavenly treasure, for the light of Christ for good sight, and for God as our true Master then, Jesus says, this is how we behave: Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life... (verse 25).
Question: When we choose God, what do we need to be
anxious about? Why?
Answer: We do not need to be anxious about what we eat or what we wear. If all our energy is devoted to our relationship with God, we will not have time to concern ourselves with worrying about what we cannot control.
Question: Again Jesus teaches His disciples by
providing a contrast "this time it is a contrast of two life goals. What
Answer: Earthly ambition as opposed to Godly ambition.
Question: What in essence does Jesus say about worry
in this passage?
Answer: Worry is a lack of faith in God.
Jesus teaches that God created and now sustains life just as He created and now helps us to sustain our bodies. The logic is if God takes care of our lives can't we trust Him to take care to the needs of our bodies, and if we trust God to take care of our lives and our bodies cannot we also trust Him to take care of the less important matters like our food and clothing?
Question: Jesus reinforces this logic by asking what
question in verse 27?
Answer: Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
The last word in this Greek phrase can be translated as either "life-span" or "stature." To add an extra inch to our height or an extra minute to our lives is not in our hands. If we must leave these issues to God, shouldn't we also leave the greater issues over which we have no control in His hands? But this passage does not mean:
In verse 34 Jesus says that we must ...not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself, meaning that we do the best that we can with the circumstances we are given and leave the rest up to God, refusing to become a slave to worry. If we become a slave to worry we are not trusting in God to provide for us.
Question: What does Jesus mean when He says:
Sufficient for a day is its own evil (verse 34)?
Answer: He means one day's trouble is enough for one day. Take one day at and time, living that day in full obedience to God. Worry is not compatible with a Christian's trust in God.
A CHRISTIAN'S RELATIONSHIPS AND COMMITMENTS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD WORKS
Love without truth is blind "truth without love is empty. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, April 2006, from the Mass prior to the concave which elected him Pope Benedict XVI
But the LORD's kindness [hesed = faithful covenant-love] is forever, toward the faithful from age to age. He favors the children's children of those who keep his covenant, who take care to fulfill its precepts. Psalms 103:17-18
The connecting thread that runs through chapter 7 of Matthew's Gospel is that of relationships. Jesus has taught on a Christian's character, on a Christian's influence in the faith community and in the world, on the responsibility of the Christian to lead a righteous, holy life and on the destructive force of ambition and self-glorification. Now, in the conclusion of His homily to His disciples, He will focus on the Christian's commitments by discussing seven kinds of relationships:
Matthew 7:1-6 ~ Judging others in our attitude to our brothers and sisters in the Christian community: (Jesus continues, saying)"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. 2 For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. 3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden bean in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden bean is in your eye? 5 You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye.
6 Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, least they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces."
Although Jesus has called us to a standard of "perfection" in Matthew 5:48 when He said, "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," He understands that this is not a perfection that we are likely to achieve in this life, nor does He anticipate that the Christian community as a whole will be perfect.
Question: What is the paradox of the Church in her
mission to resist sin and to live in holiness?
Answer: The paradox of the Church is that she is the sinless Bride of Christ who is full of sinners.
Jesus knows that within each individual faith community and within each Christian family there will at times be disharmony and disunity. In this passage Jesus directs how Christians should behave in the community toward a fellow Christian who has fallen into error and toward others who have fallen into sin. In cases of disharmony Jesus forbids two actions and encourages a third in how Christians act and react to other Christians and to "our neighbor" "who is now identified in the New Covenant as everyone with whom we come into contact in our walk of faith:
Question: In cases of disharmony Jesus forbids two
actions and encourages a third in how Christians act and react to other
Christians. What are these actions?
Note: the Greek word for brother or brother's in these verses is the word adelphos, which means "from the womb." In the plural it can refer to both brothers and sisters.(1)
Jesus commands us to stop judging that you may not be judged. Remember the rule in correctly interpreting a Biblical passage: Scripture must be studied in light of other Scripture; interpretation must not conflict with or contradict other Bible passages nor can interpretation conflict with the doctrine of the Church passed down to us through the Apostles and interpreted by their successors, the Magisterium.
Question: What doesn't Jesus mean in this passage
concerning sin and judgment? See CCC 1868-69.
The Church teaches that sin is like a contagious disease and that we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we ignore them or cooperate in them.
Question: According to the Catechism (see citation
1668), in what four ways might we cooperate in another person's sins?
In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus will address the steps one needs to take within the faith community when a brother or sister sins (either in a sinful act or a false teaching). Jesus' teaching during this entire homily is based on the assumption that the Christian disciple should use his/her critical reasoning powers to discern between righteous and unrighteous behavior and then to avoid unrighteous behavior.
St. Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth concerning problems with sexual immorality within the community advised: I have written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you (1 Cor 5:9-13). If we are commanded to "be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48) then we must be willing to discern what constitutes sin in order to avoid sin in order to live a righteous life and to protect the faith community from sin.
In the Corinthians passage Paul is addressing our responsibility to judge sins within the covenant family "those outside the covenant are the concern of the civil authorities and God as the ultimate judge. Jesus will teach on this same subject in Matthew 18:15-18.
Question: Do we or do we not have a duty to judge
between right and wrong and between good and evil?
Answer: If we do not judge between what is good and what is evil how can we strive to "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5:48? After all, isn't the search for holiness the primary purpose in our lives?
Perhaps the key word is "judge." We are to assess sin, then critically examine the consequences of the sin and call the sinner within the community to repentance. If the person refuses to repent and persists in sin that is damaging to the community, the Church can take the drastic action of excommunicating that person from the covenant family as an extreme measure to call the person to repentance (CCC 1463, 1 Cor 5:13). However, we are not to judge the condition of that person's soul or the person's ultimate eternal condition--that is a judgment reserved for God. St Paul wrote to the Church in Rome and applied the teaching of Jesus in this passage in Romans 14:4: Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. The point is we can critically analyze and judge actions but we cannot judge hearts and motives "only God can judge the intent of a human heart.
Question: But if we do judge the behavior of a person,
whether for proper or improper motives, what warning does Jesus give us?
Answer: If we judge another person we must take care that our action is based on righteousness and love; if our action in judging is motivated by anger or jealousy or hypocrisy, or the zeal of finding a fault; we too can fall under judgment and be closely examined for the same sin in our own lives.
If we take on the responsibility of judge then we cannot plead ignorance if we fall into the same sin; in fact, we will be judged more harshly. Jesus' command not to judge, therefore, is not a command to be ignorant or blind but a plea to be merciful because there for the grace of God we might also tread. Father Luis de Leon writes in his commentary on the life of Job: God measures out according as we measure out and forgives as we forgive, and comes to our rescue with the same tenderness as he sees us having toward others [quoted from the Navarre Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, page 80].
Jesus is telling the Christian not to be a hypocrite and in verses 3-5 Jesus tells another little parable contrasting specks of dust with large wooden beams. There is the saying that "it takes a thief to know a thief" and "there is no honor among thieves." In other words, the sinner is the first to suspect another of the same sin. In this parable Jesus exposes human hypocrisy as the reason we should take care to judge the sin but not the soul of the person. Not only are we are fallible humans but we are fallen humans. It is our fallen nature and our concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, that disqualifies us. In mercy and in humility we should help our brother or sister to remove the "speck" of sin from their lives and in gratitude look to our heavenly Father to forgive the log of sin in our lives. In St John Chrysostom's homily on this passage he writes: Correct him but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines. And St. Josemaria Escriva wisely advises us To criticize, to destroy, is not difficult; any unskilled laborer knows how to drive his pick into the noble and finely-hewed stone of a cathedral. To construct: that is what requires the skill of a master (The Way, page 456].
Matthew 7:6 Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, least they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces."
Then in Matthew 7:6 Jesus makes a strange comment about dogs and pigs. There are, He tells us, people who behave like dogs and pigs. The people of God were to observe ritual cleanliness laws that included only eating foods that were ritually "clean" (i.e. see Lev chapter 11). The wild packs of "unclean" dogs who roamed the trash dumps were despised as were the ritually "unclean" gentiles who lived such immoral lives, and so gentiles were usually given the label "dogs" (see Jesus reply to the Canaanite woman in Mt 15:26). Pigs, of course, were also "unclean" animals to the righteous Jew; pigs wallowed in filth like a sinner wallows in sin. We are not to judge the intent of sinner's heart but we must not ignore their sins and faults when they act like dogs and pigs. St. Peter, perhaps thinking of this passage in Matthew 7:6, would bring these two animals together in his letter to the universal Church in two proverbs in a teaching concerning those who turn away and abandon the teaching of Christ: What is expressed in the true proverb has happened to them, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the bathed sow returns to wallow in the mire.' (2 Pt 2:22). The point is that unbelievers who reject the gift of rebirth and eternal life and possess the only physical, like animals instead of spiritual life, will return to their old sinful and immoral habits and should therefore be avoided.
Question: But what does Jesus mean when He tells the
Christian (1) not to give what is holy to dogs and (2) not to throw our pearls
before swine? Hint: "holy food" for the covenant people were the
sacrifices offered to Yahweh which He graciously shared with His people in a
sacred meal (i.e., Lev 7:1-6, 11-15, 19b-21; 22:1-9). Dogs and pigs were
classified as "unclean." To what does Jesus compare a pearl in
With the exception of a holocaust or whole burnt offering (the compulsory Tamid sacrifice and all voluntary whole burnt offerings made by individuals), all the sacrifices were "holy food" eaten either by the priests and their families (sin sacrifices) or by the covenant community as in the case of the Passover sacrifice and the Toda sacrifices. A member of the covenant would never give such food, even the scraps, to the unclean dogs. Like the definition of "holy food" in the Old Covenant, the Church fathers taught that in this passage that which is holy referred to the "holy food" of the New Covenant communion "the Eucharist. It was the Church's teaching that only those made "clean" in the blood of the Lamb could receive the "holy food" of the Eucharist. The unbeliever, not discerning the nature of the sacrament as the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ would distain the holy gift and therefore should not be allowed to partake of the sacrament. The Church's oldest catechism entitled "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," more commonly known by the Greek word for "teaching" as the Didache, adopts this interpretation. In the middle of the section on the Eucharistic prayer (Didache, 9.1-10:6), the Didache reads: Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, but those baptized into the name of the Lord; this too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: Give not that which is holy to the dogs' (Didache, 9.5).
The pearls may be linked to Jesus' later parable of the "Pearl of great value" in Matthew 13:46 in which the pearl is the Kingdom of Heaven, or by extension the Gospel message of salvation. But we are commanded to actively and indiscriminately share the message of salvation with unbelievers so Jesus could not be telling us not to waste the Gospel on sinners. But perhaps the "swine" aren't simply the sinners or unbelievers but those who have persistently and belligerently rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation, preferring to remain "unclean" like swine and dogs "the Christian apostates of St. Peter's teaching in 2 Peter 2:22 (see quotation above).
Matthew 7:7-12 ~ Jesus teaches about the
effectiveness of our prayers to the Father and our obligations to others
7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, 10 or a snake when he asks for a fish? 11 If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. 12 Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the prophets.
It is natural that Jesus should move in His homily from the relationship of the Christian with brothers and sisters within the faith community to the relationship of the Christian with God the Father. He wants His disciples to understand that living the Christian duty of righteous behavior is much too difficult without the divine grace of our heavenly Father. Addressing the effectiveness of prayer to the Father, Jesus does not put any restrictions on prayer. St. Jerome commenting on this passage notes: It is written, to everyone who asks it will be given; so, if it is not given to you, it is not given to you because you do not ask; so, ask and you will receive (Jerome, Commentary of Matthew, 7).
Question: Even though prayer is infallible, we are not
infallible. If Jesus says prayer is as easy as asking and "it will be
given to you," why is it that sometimes God's answer to our prayers is "no" or
Answer: Our petition may be delayed or denied because:
Jesus has already warned us against the sin of hypocrisy in prayer and has already given us His own model prayer in the Lord's Prayer. Now He encourages His disciples to pray by giving some commands and some very loving promises. In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus gives three direct commands and three promises if one follows these commands in connection to how we should pray.
Question: What are the three commands?
Answer: Ask, seek, and knock.
Question: What are the three promises we are to expect
if we follow these commands?
Answer: The promise is expressed in three statements: "everyone who asks receives", "the one who seeks finds" and "to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
|Ask||everyone who asks receives|
|Seek||the one who seeks finds|
|Knock||to the one who knocks, the door will be opened|
Question: What door? Quote the significant
passages. See Mt 3:13-17 and Rev 3:8; 20-21; 4:1; CCC 536 and 1026.
Answer: The door to heaven and eternal life which had been closed since the Fall and had not been opened until the coming of the Christ:
Jesus illustrates His promise in another parable in Matthew 7:9-11 of a child coming to a father with a request, something with which everyone hearing the sermon can relate "everyone having been either a child or a parent themselves.
Question: What are the contrasts in this parable?
What is the relationship between the bread and the stone and the fish and the
snake and what is the point? Hint: the fish is a smooth, scaleless fish
called a barbut that is found in the Sea of Galilee and its appearance is
somewhat like a snake.
Answer: The contrasts are between a stone and a round loaf of bread, between a snake and the fish without scales, and between the unrighteous father and the heavenly Father:
|Contrast in the parable of Matthew 7:9-11|
|Loaf of bread||Stone|
|Fish without scales||Snake|
|Heavenly Father||Unrighteous father|
The loaf of bread and a round stone or the fish without scales and the snake look somewhat alike, but they are not the same; one is definitely better for a child than the other.
The stone and the round loaf of bread and the smooth snake and the smooth fish are somewhat similar in shape and in the case of the fish and snake are similar in substance, but one is obviously better to give a child then the other. The point is that even the unrighteous know the difference between what is good parenting and what is not good; therefore, can you trust your Heavenly Father to give you the best gift when you pray, even if you don't know yourself which gift is best? It is interesting that the force of this parable lies in the contrast rather than in the comparison between the Father who is God and the human father. Jesus acknowledges that even the unrighteous can perform good acts when He make this statement: If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.
Question: Why does Jesus call His listeners "wicked"?
Isn't He speaking to His disciples who are righteous men who have made the
choice to follow Him?
Answer: Since the Fall of our original parents and our inherited tendency to sin, that is what we are in the family of Adam, the "wicked" who are lost in original sin and who have inherited the tendency to sin.
Because of the human condition, even when humans are doing good and following nobler instincts like good parenting they cannot escape the designation "wicked." It is only when we are reborn as God's children that, through the sanctifying grace of Jesus' sacrifice, that we can live as the "good," holy sons and daughters of God.
Question: How does Jesus sum up the teachings of the
Law of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets "in other words the core teaching
of the entire content of Sacred Scripture "as it addresses our obligation to
others and the love we should show them in Matthew 7:12 (also see Lk 6:31)?
What do we call this "rule" of behavior?
Answer: In this verse, which has come to be known as the "Golden Rule," Jesus sets the standard of behavior for Christians when He says "to do to others whatever you would have them do to you."
In the literal Greek text this rule is prefaced by the Greek word oun, meaning "therefore" or "so," indicating that this rule refers back to the previous verse and implies that if God the Father is good to all His children who seek Him in prayer, then His children must exhibit the same goodness to others. It is a fact that God's own love is one of the "good things" He gives us through God the Holy Spirit in answer to our prayers. Such love is certainly beyond human will or understanding and is only possible through the divine grace of God our Father.
This rule, however, is not to be interpreted superficially as a "tit for tat" obligation in which we do a certain good to another with the expectation that they do the same or one better for us in return. Instead, the obligation is that we should do what is good unconditionally and in this way we serve God and bring His justice to our fellow man. In Tobit 4:5-6, the saintly father Tobit instructs his son Tobias, saying "Through all your days, my son, keep the Lord in mind, and suppress every desire to sin or to break his commandments. Perform good works all the days of your life, and do not tread the paths of wrongdoing. For if you are steadfast in your service, your good works will bring success, not only to you, but also to all those who live uprightly."
Question: How does Jesus define this rule of Christian
conduct again in John 13:34-35?
Answer: Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Note: Biblical critics point out that this rule of conduct is not unique to the New Testament and can be found in similar forms in the writings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, in the writings of the Greek Stoics, in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament (Tobit 4:15), and even in the Jewish Talmud. However, these similar rules of behavior are always expressed in the negative and not in the positive command used by Jesus in Matthew 7:12, which is more demanding ""to do" requires more effort that to "not do." The other literary examples of this rule only require inaction where as Jesus' command is to actively "do good." For example, Rabbi Hillel taught: What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is only commentary (Talmud: Shabbath, 31a).
This final section of Jesus homily in verses 13-29 is composed of a series of antitheses which contrasts the choice between living in obedience to the teachings of Jesus and going one's own way:
Matthew 7:13-14: The Narrow Gate and Narrow Path versus
the Wide Gate and the Broad Path
Jesus continued His teaching by saying: "13 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few."
From the beginning of God's relationship with man, through the gift of free will, man has always had the choice between two paths: to travel the path of obedience to God or to go one's own way. Moses spoke of the two ways in his last homily to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 in choosing the path of life in obedience to the commandments of the Lord or the path that leads to death, and the Psalmist wrote: The LORD watches over the Way of the Just, but the Way of the wicked leads to ruin (Ps 1:6). In fact, in the early Church, before the name "Christian" was applied to believers at the Church of Antioch in Syria, the followers of Jesus were referred to as the followers of "The Way" (Acts 9:2) and the same name was applied to Christians in the Church's early Catechism, called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, also known as the Didache (see articles 1-6).
In this teaching there are 3 definite, inescapable choices each of us must make. The choice between:
Question: What key word is given as a command as well
as an invitation?
Question: How "narrow" is the gate that leads to the
narrow, less traveled path? See Matthew 19:24 (also found in Mark 10:25
and Luke 18:25). What does Jesus tell us about this narrow door in Luke
Answer: For some of us it can be as narrow as the eye of a needle! In Luke 13:24 Jesus says: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." We cannot force our way into heaven for Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14:6).
Question: What contrast is Jesus making in this
passage? How does free will enter into our decision? What is the
inescapable choice each of us must make?
Answer: Everyone must choose between two paths in life; the choice is entirely ours. The wide path is the way of sin. It seems appealing at first and calls for no standard of conduct. It is the easier, and therefore the more traveled path, but it leads to eternal punishment. The other choice is the narrow gate and a less traveled, harder path, but this path leads to eternal salvation.
Question: What makes the less traveled, narrow path
harder? What is the faithful Christian who chooses this path carrying
across the threshold of the Narrow Gate? See Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21; Luke 9:23; and 14:27.
Answer: He carries the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth.
Question: What is it that the righteous Christian
leaves behind before traveling the more difficult terrain of the Narrow Path?
What is it you won't need or won't be helpful to you on this lifetime faith
Answer: When one travels a difficult path it is necessary to divest oneself of all unessential baggage. In this case divest yourself of materialism, pride, self-centeredness and hypocrisy.
The metaphor of the two paths is also found in the Didache in Articles 1-6. Notice the references to Scripture passages as you read these instructions from the first catechism:
Matthew 7:15-20 ~ The False Prophet versus the
Jesus said: "15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So by their fruits you will know them."
The reference to thorns and thistles call to mind the judgment against Adam and the curse of the ground after the Fall: Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field, by the sweat of your face ... (Gen 3:18).
False prophets pose a treat through their false teachings. They distort the true teaching of the message of the Gospel of salvation and make it difficult to find the entrance to the narrow gate. Therefore, it is logical that Jesus should warn the faithful about the danger of believing false prophets immediately following His teaching about the two gates, ways and destinations. False prophets are dangerous because they are deceptive. Posing as legitimate prophets and teachers they are harder to detect than the "dogs" and "pigs" of verse 6 who are outwardly hostile to the message of salvation. The false prophet puts on the guise of the righteous but is in fact a "wolf" with an agenda among the sheep of the Shepherd.
In the Old Testament, God's prophet Jeremiah warned the covenant people of the dangers of false prophets who lead the people astray. Please read Jer 23:9-40.
Question: According to Jeremiah what are the
characteristics of a false prophet?
St. Jerome identified false prophets in the New Covenant Church as heretics within the ranks of the faithful who appear pious but who in fact do not teach Jesus' doctrine and instead have their own peculiar doctrine influenced by the world and not faithful to the teachings of Christ (Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 7). St. John Chrysostom identified the false prophet as anyone who appears to be virtuous but who is "acting a part" to lead the righteous astray (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew).
In Matthew 7:15-20 the contrast between the false and genuine prophets is also a contrast between what one says and what one does.
Question: Who then is the genuine Prophet? See
Dt 18:21-22; Mt 10:41 and 23:34.
Answer: A genuine prophet is a righteous Christian disciple who speaks the truth in the name of Jesus when he proclaims the Gospel and is willing to endure suffering and to even give up his life in defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Question: How does Jesus use animals to characterize
the false prophet from the genuine Christian prophet in verse 15?
Answer: The false prophet comes as a wolf in sheep's clothing. He looks like a "sheep"/faithful believer but in his heart he is a ravenous wolf.
The false prophet is not obedient to the teachings of Jesus and supports his own interpretation of the Gospel. He is a liar who charms by his false display of piety while pursuing his own selfish ends. In Matthew 24:4 Jesus warns the Church, saying "Take care that no one deceives you, because many will come using my name and saying, I am the Christ,' and they will deceive many."
St. Jude's letter to the universal Church is entirely devoted to warning the faithful against the teaching of false prophets. He begins with his reason for writing: Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones. For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude verses 3-4). And he closes his letter with the exhortation: But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you, In [the] last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires.' These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life (verses 17-21).
Question: Who was admitted into Jesus' inner circle
that was a "wolf" "a false disciple?
Answer: Judas Iscariot.
Question: How does Jesus tell us to distinguish the
false prophet from the genuine Christian in verse 16?
Answer: They are distinguished by the "fruits" or works they produce.
Question: In this passage, Jesus makes a series
of contrasts between the false prophet and true disciple concerning the "fruit"
they bear; what are these contrasts?
|True Prophet/disciple||False Prophet|
|Good tree/Good fruit||Rotten tree/rotten fruit|
Question: What is the contrast between these three
metaphors compared to the teaching of Jesus Christ, the true Prophet?
Answer: Grapes, figs and good fruit are all good for us as physical nourishment and will produce a healthy body just as the faithful teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will produce a healthy spiritual body that will produce the good works of God working through the obediently faithful Christian. However, false teaching, like thorns, thistles, and rotten fruit, are not nourishing physically or spiritually and will produce bad health as the promotion of false teaching produces bad works.
Jesus will return to the metaphor of the rotten tree bearing rotten fruit contrasted with the good and fruitful tree several times during His three year ministry (Mt 21:18-22, 33-46; Mk 11:12-14, 20-24; Lk 13:6-9; John 15:1-2). The symbol of the fruitful tree or vine held special significance for the Old Covenant Church, especially in the books of the prophets (see Is 5:1-7; Jer 2:21; 12:10; Ez 15:1-8; 17:3-10; 19:10-14; Ho 9:16; 10:1). Throughout the books of the prophets the fruitful tree or vine was a symbol of faithful Israel while the barren tree or vine or the tree or vine bearing wild grapes or rotten fruit was a symbol of an apostate Covenant people who do not bear the works of God.
Question: In Matthew 7:19 Jesus uses a metaphor to
describe what will happen to the tree bearing rotten fruit. What is the
symbolism in this metaphor?
Answer: The rotten tree will be thrown into the fire/the false prophet will be doomed to the eternal fire of Gehenna.
Throughout His ministry Jesus will teach that faith must be evidenced by the works of God working through us. "Faith alone" or "faith based on false teaching" will not produce candidates for the Kingdom of Heaven (see the parable of the Unfruitful Servant in Mt 25:14-30). The words "faith alone" only appears in sacred Scripture in one verse and no other, and that verse is found in James 2:24. Beginning in 2:14 St. James warns My brothers what good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? and in 2:24 he writes, You must perceive that a person is justified by his works and not by faith alone.
Jesus continues in this theme of judgment
Matthew 7:21-23 ~ The True Disciple.
Jesus said: "21 Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'
In Scripture "to know" someone refers to either intimate sexual knowledge or to covenant family relationships. It is not that God/Jesus did not know that person existed, but that person did not live in obedience to the covenant union that he/she was invited to share in the life of Christ.
Question: What is Jesus' message in 7:21-23 concerning
those hypocrites who only play at piety? Who is it that will enter the
gates of heaven? Also see Jesus' teaching on the subject of the Last
Judgment in Mt 25:31-45.
Answer: On Judgment Day the morally corrupt and false teachers will hear Jesus say: "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers." Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is only for those who obediently do the will of the Father.
At the end our lives each of us will face an individual (also called the "particular") judgment. At that time whether our lives were a success or a failure will be judged as we stand before the great white judgment throne of God with Jesus as our advocate. At this judgment each of us will be rewarded according to our faith and works (see CCC# 1021-22; 1 Cor 3:12-15).
The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 7:24-28 ~ The Contrast of the Two Foundations and
the Importance of Works of Faith
Jesus said: "24 Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined." 28 When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Question: In Matthew 7:15-23 the emphasis was on
"saying" and "doing" but what is the contrast now?
Answer: In verse 24 the emphasis is on "listening/hearing and doing."
The true Christian is the one who listens to the words of Jesus and does what He tells them as in the prophecy God gave Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-19: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it. The True prophet/disciple is one who listens to the words Jesus speaks and obeys them. Jesus told his disciples: "The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from my hand" (Jn 10:27-28, New Jerusalem; also see Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35).
There is also another contrast; this time it is between the one who built his house on the rock as opposed to the one who built his house on the sand.
Question: Who is like the man who built on the rock?
Answer: The one who listens to Jesus' words and does what He says.
Question: What is the fate of those who refuse to
listen to the words of Jesus and therefore fail to do what the Messiah tells
Answer: They will be like one who built the foundation of his house on unstable sand.
Question: What happened to the house built on a
foundation of sand?
Answer: It collapsed.
Contrasts in this teaching:
|The Faithful Disciple||The False Disciple|
|Listens and hears = does the will of God||Does not listen = does not fulfill God's will|
|Builds on Rock which lasts forever||Builds on sand which collapses|
Question: Who is the "man" who built His house upon
the rock? Who is the "rock" and what is the "house"? See Mt 16:13-20 and
Jn 1:42 (Kephas is the Aramaic word for "rock" and the Greek word is petra but
is rendered "petros" if applied as a masculine name).
Answer: The Man is Jesus, the rock is the Apostle Simon who Jesus renamed Kephas/Peter (meaning "rock" in Aramaic/Greek), and the house is the Church!
The Temple in Jerusalem was built upon the rock of El Shakrah [Arabic] or the eb(v)en s(sh)etiyah in Hebrew, the holy "rock of foundation" on Mt. Moriah upon which the holy covenant name of God was engraved. But the New Covenant Temple is the body of every believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells with the name of Christ engraved upon each Christian heart, and the Catholic Church, which is Body of Christ, is built upon the firm foundation "the rock that is Peter! "The Rock" is a title in the Old Testament which was used for God and for the pre-incarnate Christ. St. Paul identifies the pre-incarnate Jesus as "the Rock" in the New Testament (i.e. see Deuteronomy 32:4; 15; 18; 30; 31; 1 Corinthians 10:4). In Matthew 6:16, along with His power and authority, Jesus gives the Apostle Simon His title of "rock" as a sign of that authority just as He also gives Simon-Peter the keys of His kingdom like the prime ministers [vicars] of the old Davidic kings (Is 22:20-22)!
Matthew 7:28 ~ When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
The word "crowds" probably refers to the 70 disciples who stayed with Jesus on the mountain and from whom He chose the 12 Apostles (Lk 6:12-13). After His finished addressing His disciples, He came down from the mountain (Mt 8:1; Lk 6:17) and gave His "Sermon on the Plain" to the people waiting below the summit of the mountain (Lk 6:17-7:1).
Question: Why were the people "astonished at His
Answer: Jesus taught them with "authority"; He taught in harmony with God's teaching in the Sacred Scriptures and not like other teachers who injected their own interpretation of Scripture.
This is the same way we should judge those who teach us. Does their teaching agree with the entire deposit of Sacred Scripture or do they take Scripture out of context and twist verses to conform to their own understanding. If the interpretation of one passage of Scripture contradicts another passage, that interpretation is in error.
Question: What verse would you identify as the central
theme of the Sermon on the Mount?
Answer: The central theme of the Sermon on the Mount is summarized in Matthew 5:48: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount His statement in Matthew 5:48 is a key summation of the whole teaching in His first great homily. In the Gospels this Greek word, teleios [tel'-i-os], meaning "complete, of full age, perfect" (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 5046), occurs only 3 times, twice in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:48, So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect and once in Matthew 19:21 in Jesus' call of discipleship to the rich young man seeking eternal life: Jesus said to him, If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'
It is important to understand that the word "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 does not refer to sinless or moral perfection. Instead it indicates spiritual perfection "the completeness or wholeness of men and women united with God in the state of grace and divine son/daughter-ship first enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. This is the goal for which we strive "to live our Christian lives in a state of grace empowered through the Sacraments and living the Beatitudes daily in our walk of faith. This standard of perfection or completeness is, of course, impossibility without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but it is the standard to which Jesus has called us.
In His call to faithfulness in living the Beatitudes and the expanded teaching that followed in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identifies the righteous believer who lives the New Covenant Law as one who loves God and exhibits that love by:
Jesus will continue to teach on these major themes throughout His ministry.
CCC# 2608: From the Sermon on the Mount onwards, Jesus insists on conversion of heart: reconciliation with one's brother before presenting an offering on the altar, love of enemies. And prayer for persecutors, prayer to the Father in secret, not heaping up empty phrases, prayerful forgiveness from the depths of the heart, purity of heart, and seeking the Kingdom before all else. This filial conversion is entirely directed to the Father.
St. John-Marie Vianney expressed our call to love and serve God in his humble declaration I love you O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely loveable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally...My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath (St. John Marie Vianney, as quoted in CCC 2658). In the end the entire Law is based on a response to love; our love for God in Christ and how we diffuse His love to others. It is this love that we are asked to give freely and without thought of compensation to our brothers and sisters in the family of humanity. For in God's great symphony of life, faith and love must be lived in a harmony of community as well as sung by a single voice.
Questions for discussion:
Question: Jesus did not come to do away with our earthly struggles and suffering but came instead to unite our suffering to His. Even in times of trial and suffering what comfort can you receive from claiming these verses: Mt 28:18; Gen 50:20 and Rom 8:28?
Question: What does St. Paul identify as fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-17 that will be harvest of right conduct from the righteous disciple?
Question: What instruction does Jesus give us concerning correction of a brother or sister within the faith community? What are the 3 levels of correction and if those measures fail what is the final solution? Keep in mind that the final judgment is meant to be a final measure in order to bring about reconciliation and redemption. How would you go about carrying out such a correction or have you ever had such an experience that you would like to share? See Mt 18:15-20.
Question: What does sound teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ produce as opposed to false teaching according to St. Paul? See 1 Tim 1:4-5; 4:7; 6:3-5; 2 Tim 2:16-18, 23; 3:16-17; Tit 1:11; 3:9; and in Jude verses 3-4, 16-25.
Question: We are encouraged to look for righteousness and love in our teachers and to reject the teachings of the unrighteous and unloving. But to these moral tests we must add a doctrinal test to ensure that the teacher's message is in accord with the original apostolic instruction passed from Christ to the Apostles and from them to their disciples, the first Bishops of the Church, and finally down to us in the Magisterium today. How does the Apostle John encourage us to discern true teaching from false in 1 Jn 2:22-24; 4:2-3, 6; and 2 Jn verses 7-9?
Question: In the writings of the Fathers of the Church, they were fond of repeating this saying: Born once, die twice; born twice, die once. What did they mean by this statement? See Jn 3:3, 5; Jm 1:18; 1 Pt 1:23 and Rev. 20:6, 11-15 (especially verse 14); 21:8.
1. Adelphos is the only word used for "brother" in the Greek New Testament. Therefore, when certain of Jesus' kinsmen are referred to in the New Testament as "brothers" of the Lord it cannot be assumed the meaning is "blood-brothers" born from Mary. In Hebrew and in Aramaic, there was no distinction between kinsmen who were siblings or cousins or even "brothers" within the bond of the covenant (see Mt 12:46-49 and 13:56 and compare with Mt 23:8; Acts 1:16; 2:29, 37; 21:17, 20; and 22:1 where the only word used is adelphos "even for the Apostles and disciples). Covenants create family bonds and everyone within the covenant is considered a kinsman. When Scripture refers to the "brothers" of Jesus, the Church has always taught that these "brothers/sisters" are kinsmen/women who are either cousins or half-brothers/sisters (CCC 502).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson: (* = Scripture quoted or paraphrased in the citation)
368*, 2533, 2551
2113, 2424, 2729*, 2821*, 2848
1036, 1970*, 2609*
1942, 2604*, 2608*, 2632*
443*, 1821*, 2611, 2826