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6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:15-20
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 27, 34
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:17-37

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Man's Free-will, God's Law, and Freedom

God gave human beings the free will to make choices in life, as we are reminded in the First Reading: When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice. If you choose you can keep the commandments; they will save you (Sir 15:14-15). Human freedom means men and women can choose to do good rather than evil. However, freedom should not be confused with "license," which is to behave according to one's own desires with no boundaries. Such behavior does not bring "self-realization" but is an invitation to fall into sin and self-destruction.

It is God who promises humanity the blessings of true freedom, as the psalmist writes on our Responsorial Psalm, Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD. 2 Blessed are they who observe his decrees, who seek him with all their heart (Ps 119:1-2). Like the psalmist, we should ask God to give us discernment to understand His commands that are only meant for our good.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul writes about a godly wisdom that is not of this world. It is wisdom of a higher, spiritual level since the wisdom of God is hidden in it. That higher wisdom is the Gospel of Jesus Christ; it is the insight of Christian faith that helps Christians to discern the right direction in life in the exercise of their free will. St. Paul makes the point that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not contrary to reason but is superior to it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is divine wisdom that can turn new Christians who are "children" in the faith into "mature," faith-filled adults. Paul also makes the argument that it is a wisdom that those attached to this world cannot understand. If they had understood, he says, they never would have crucified "the Lord of Glory."

The Gospel Reading is from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount where Jesus inaugurates a new Law for the people of a new and eternal covenant. One begins the journey on Jesus' path to salvation by receiving the Sacrament of Baptism (see Mk 16:16). Christian Baptism brings about a spiritually renewed life founded upon an inward righteousness manifested by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In His sermon, Jesus identifies those external acts of love and mercy that testify to a life transformed by the Holy Spirit. The link between the Spirit that God puts into transformed hearts and His love clearly shows that we cannot have one without the other. It is God the Holy Spirit who circumcises the hearts of those who have the privilege of calling themselves children in the family of God.

Real freedom comes from Christ's sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and obedience to God's commandments through which we are liberated from the bondage of sin. It is through the Holy Spirit that the wisdom of God is made available to human beings to make the free-will choice to live the Law of the Gospel of salvation in accepting Jesus Christ, "the Lord of Glory," as Savior and Redeemer.

The First Reading Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:15-20 ~ The Freedom to Choose Life
15 If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; 16 if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.  17 Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.  18 Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.  19 The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man's every deed.  20 No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.

Human freedom means men and women can choose to do good rather than evil.  God is not responsible for the bad things that happen in the world (Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24). He does not give men and women the license to sin; rather He justly punishes those who choose to do evil.  The suffering and evil at work in the world is because of the sinful choices men and women make.  In the Sinai Covenant with Israel, the commandments God gave His people in the Law provided the path to life (Dt 30:15-20).  The Law was a tutor and a guide that led to revealed Law in the Gospel of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ (CCC 1961-64).  In the Last Age of mankind, Christians are called to live the revealed Law of divine wisdom in the Gospel of the New Covenant.  It is in choosing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that one chooses the path to eternal life.

Responsorial Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 27, 34 ~ The Blessed Follow God's Law
The response is: "Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!"

1 Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.  2 Blessed are they who observe his decrees, who seek him with all their heart. 
Respnse:
4 You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept.  5 Oh, that I might be firm in the ways of keeping your statutes! 
Respnse:
17 Be good to your servant, that I may live and keep your words.
18 Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law.
Respnse:
27 Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes.
34 Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.
Respnse:

The first verses of the Psalm focus attention on the Law and our obedience to God's commandments.  Verses 17-18 ask the Lord God to increase our understanding of the precepts of the Law.  To keep God's commandments one needs to know them and to appreciate them (verses 17-18 and 27). The moral prescriptions of the Old Law are summed up in the Ten Commandments. However, there were also ritual purification laws, social prohibitions, religious laws pertaining to worship, and laws concerned with the wearing of certain textiles and the eating of certain foods that separated the covenant people from their pagan neighbors.  It is God who gives a person the discernment to know the Law and to keep it so that by obedience to the Law one can obtain God's favor (verse 34).

The Old Covenant Law expressed many truths naturally accessible to reason.  God revealed His Law to His covenant people to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah.  According to Christian tradition, the Old Law was holy, spiritual, and good.  Yet it was imperfect because it could only show the way to salvation but of itself was incapable of granting eternal life.  The New Law, which is the Law of the Gospel, is the perfection on earth of divine Law.  It is the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit and is especially taught by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7; see the Gospel reading).  Through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the New Law becomes the interior law of love and charity: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Heb 8:8, 10 quoting from Jer 31:31-34).

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 ~ God's Wisdom
6 We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.  7 Rather, we speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, 8 and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  9 But as it is written: "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him," 10 this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.  For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.

After teaching that the wisdom of the world is not wisdom according to God (1 Cor 1:25-31), in this passage St. Paul speaks of a godly wisdom that is not of this world.  It is wisdom of a higher, spiritual level since the wisdom of God is hidden in it.  That higher wisdom, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the insight of Christian faith and is intended to help Christians discern the right direction in life. 

St. Paul makes the point that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not contrary to reason but is superior to it since it is divine wisdom.  It is divine wisdom that turns new Christians who are "children" in the faith into "mature," faith-filled adults (verse 6).  Paul also makes the argument that it is a wisdom that those attached to this world cannot understand.  If they had understood, he says, they never would have crucified "the Lord of Glory" (verse 8), which is a title Paul attributes to Christ on the Cross.  It is a title in the Old Testament reserved for God alone (Ex 24:15; 40:34; Is 42:8), and by using it, Paul is making it clear that Jesus Christ is God.

Then in verse 9, St. Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:2-3: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him. Paul's point, made by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (8th century BC), is that because of His transcendence God cannot be seen as He is unless He chooses to open up His mystery to man's contemplation and give man the capacity for it.  It is in God the Son that God the Father reveals Himself to man, and it is through divine wisdom that He gives man the capacity, through the Holy Spirit and faith, to understand that revelation.

The Gospel of Matthew 5:17-37 ~ The Sermon on the Mount Continued: Jesus Teaches About the Law and the Six Antithesis
Jesus taught His disciples: 17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  18 Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.  19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  20 I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  21 You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.'  22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna.  23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.  Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.  27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.   31 It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.'  32 But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.   33 Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.'  34 But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  36 Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.  37 Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one."

Jesus begins this part of His Sermon on the Mount discourse by the assuring His disciples that He has not come to abandon the earlier revelation of the commands and prohibitions of Yahweh's Law until "all things have taken place" and the Law has been "fulfilled" (verses 17-18).  By referring to "the Law and the prophets" (verse 17), Jesus' reference is to the entire content of OLd Testament Sacred Scripture from the first book of Moses (Genesis) to the last book of the prophets (Malachi).   To stress this assurance, Jesus makes a statement and gives an example concerning His solidarity with "the Law" as expressed in the sacred writings.  He says no part of the Law, not the smallest letter or part of a letter of the Law, will be abolished until "heaven and earth pass away" and until "all things have taken place."

In verse 18, Jesus literally says: until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a keraia will pass from the law until all things have taken place [or been accomplished/fulfilled]. The "iota" [ee-o-tah] is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew yod, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet which is about the size of a comma. The keraia [ker-ah'-yah], or literally "something horn-like," refers to one of the tiny hooks or projections which distinguish some Hebrew letters from other letters.  Luke uses the same words in Luke 16:17: It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter [keraia] of the law to become invalid.  Although in Luke's statement Jesus does not mention "the prophets" as He does in verse 71, Jesus is probably using "the Law" as a comprehensive term for the entire body of divine revelation in the Old Testament. 

Notice that Jesus makes a key statement in Matthew 5:18, and he will repeat it with slightly different wording in verse 20.  In verse 18 He says: "Amen, I say to you..." and in verse 20: "I tell you..." Jesus is issuing commands in His own name and under His own authority.  No other prophet or scribe had ever spoken with such authority. 

The Law of the Sinai Covenant, given by Yahweh through His prophet Moses and reinforced by the prophets of God throughout the Old Testament, was a gift of God to His holy covenant people.  It was the Law that bound the Israelites to Yahweh, and it was the Law that bound Yahweh to the Israelites.  But, it was also a gift in anticipation of the more perfect Law that the promised Messiah would usher in, beginning with His reign over the New Covenant Church that is the "new Israel" as prophesied by the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah: The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah... (Jer 31:31; also see CCC 877). 

The Magisterium of the universal Church interprets the Old Covenant Law in this anticipatory light as looking forward to Jesus as the "new Moses" who is the "new Lawgiver." It is an interpretation which is expressed in the documents of the Council of Trent and in the Catechism:

With Jesus' announcement "I say" and not "God says," He is declaring his superiority over Moses and the other Old Testament prophets.  Jesus declares that He is the new lawgiver.  He is the promised One who is greater than Moses.  He is the future prophet about whom God commanded the Covenant people they must listen and obey.  Speaking through Moses, Yahweh told the people: "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" (Dt 18:18-19).

When Jesus says "... until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law..." His promise is that none of divine revelation, in the smallest part, will pass away or be discarded until He fulfills all the Law and the Prophets wrote about Him (Lk 24:27, 44).  His statement that none will pass away "until heaven and earth pass away" affirms that when they do "pass away" a mighty rebirth will take place and time as we know it will change.  The final fulfillment of the "passing away" of the one and the birth of the other will coincide.

This event will not take place "until all things have taken place/ been fulfilled" (Mt 5:18).  Many would say this reference is to the end of time and the cosmos as we know it, but this theory requires further examination.  Jesus' reference may not concern the end of the world in the sense of the dissolution of the existing universe.  At the beginning of his homily in Acts chapter two on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, St. Peter quotes from the Old Testament book of the prophet Joel 3:1-5.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter declared that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled Joel's prophecy on the day that was the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.  It was an annual feast that celebrated God's gift of the Law and the covenant at Mt. Sinai.  God the Holy Spirit came down upon the New Covenant people praying with the Virgin Mary in the Upper Room, filling and indwelling the believers of the New Covenant.  St. Peter told the crowd that these events are ... what was spoken through the prophet Joel.  St. Peter declares that Jesus' death and resurrection ushered in a New Age and a New Creation.  Jesus' resurrection and the supernatural event in the Second Great Pentecost are the promised "Day of the Lord" that has signaled the beginning of the Final Age of man.  It is the age in which we all now live. 

The key phrase found in Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:17-20 is verse 17 in which Jesus promises that He has not come to abolish but to fulfill: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Jesus fulfills through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection what will bring New Covenant believers, through their baptism by water and the spirit into the family of God and usher in the eternal Kingdom on earth, the universal Church. It is what the prophet Daniel foretold in Daniel 2:44 and 7:27

 

Jesus' statement "until all things have taken place" before the Law is "fulfilled" is a reference to Jesus' Passion, death, and Resurrection.  In one of Jesus' last statements from the Cross, He will speak of fulfillment/completion: After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst."  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished."  And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit (Jn 19:28-30). 

In the Greek text, Jesus said "Teltelestai," which can be translated: It is finished, or It is fulfilled/completed; it was also a Greek word used in accounting practices to mean "It is paid in full."  The Old Covenant Law that prepared us for His coming is fulfilled.  It cannot be His work of salvation because that will not be fulfilled until His glorious return in His Second Advent.  It is the Old Covenant sacrificial and purification system that is fulfilled in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29).  He became the ultimate, the perfect sacrifice, for sin.  Jesus came to "finish" or "fulfill" the Sinai Covenant in God's work of salvation, as he told His disciples in John 4:34, saying: "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work" (also see Jn 17:4), and to "pay in full" the penalty for our sins.  With His perfect sacrifice on the cross, the Old Covenant animal sacrifices and the ritual purity rites, which were an imperfect, temporary measure, ended and only the moral Law remained. it is a law that He transformed to a higher, more spiritual standard.  The Law contained in the Sacred Scriptures (Jn 19:28) was perfected, transformed, and fulfilled (CCC 1967-68).

Matthew 5:19 Jesus gives a warning concerning the Law and a promise.  He warns in verse 19: "Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven."   Jesus teaches that greatness in the kingdom will be measured by obedience and correct teaching of the whole Law.  Using the conjunction oun, which can be translated as "certainly," "accordingly," "then," or "therefore," Jesus makes the vital connection between faithful obedience to the Law and entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus also makes it clear that personal obedience is not good enough.  The faithful Christian disciple must also teach others the permanently binding nature of God's commands.  Greatness in God's Kingdom will be measured by living and teaching in obedience to the laws of God: teaching our children, our extended families, our neighbors, and the world. 

In Matthew 5:20 Jesus declares: "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven."  In this statement, Jesus sets a standard for His disciples.  Not only is the Christian's "greatness" in God's Kingdom measured by a righteousness which conforms completely in obedience to the whole body of God's commands, but entry into the Kingdom is not possible without an obedience that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.  The scribes, most of whom were of the order of the lesser Levitical ministers, were the 1st century AD theologians and teachers, while the Pharisees, the most influential religious group in the first century AD, considered themselves the most righteous of God's covenant people.  They prided themselves on their righteous and rigid adherence to the "Law of Moses." 

God's kingdom is a kingdom of the wholly righteous.  However, what Jesus is calling for is a standard of perfection of righteousness that is not the rigid external holiness of the Pharisees.  Instead, He is calling for a deeper, spiritually intense holiness that comes from the inner and most spiritually pure hearts of New Covenant believers.  It is a perfection of holiness and obedience to the Law that was promised by Yahweh through the 6th century BC prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  In Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27 the prophets looked forward to the Messianic Age and linked a promised New Covenant and its spiritual purification to a new Law and a new heart generated by the Spirit of God.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is inaugurating the New Law founded upon an inward righteousness that is manifested by the Spirit of God and evidenced by external acts of mercy because Yahweh loves a heart of holiness!  The link between the Spirit that God will put into hearts and His love clearly shows that we cannot have one without the other.  It is the Spirit who circumcises the hearts of the children of God.  This is why entry into the Kingdom is impossible without holiness deeper than that of the scribes and the Pharisees.  It is because such righteousness is evidence of the new birth through water and the Spirit that one must be reborn from above through the Sacrament of Christian baptism to enter the Kingdom of God (Jn 3:3, 5-7; Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:16).

If Jesus fulfilled the purification rites and ritual sacrifices so that they are no longer necessary, what remains of the Sinai Covenant that He will transform but leave in place?  The moral law of the Ten Commandments remained and the ritual of worship remained, but it was worship that was devoid of imperfect animal sacrifice and replaced by the pure sacrifice of "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," Jesus the Christ (see the chart at the end of the study).  The Old Testament was only a partial revelation of God.  Jesus of Nazareth "fulfilled" all the Old Testament in the sense that He brought the Law given to Moses and the teaching of the prophets to completion in His Incarnation, His ministry, and His work of redemption: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe... (Heb 1:1-2; also see  CCC 1962-1974).

What remianed from the old Mosaic Law that was transformed but still in place in the New Covenant after Jesus' self-sacrificial death and His glorious Resurrection were the Ten Commandments and the moral law.  It was the moral law that Jesus addressed in the six antitheses which are the higher standards of conduct Jesus demands of the Christian disciple living the Beatitudes of the New Covenant Law.

The Six Antitheses: Six Examples of Conduct Jesus Demands of the Christian Disciple

The six examples of Christian perfection in Matthew 5:21-48 are referred to as the six antitheses.  An antithesis is a contrast or opposition of words or sentiments.  Using the repeated formula "You have heard it said / But I say to you" and "It was also said to you / But I say to you," Jesus makes the contrast between the accepted interpretation of the Mosaic Law and His teaching which internalizes and intensives the Law of Moses to yield a new standard of obedience.   Jesus will use this formula to teach six examples of the New Law of Christian conduct. He will use the formula saying six times in 5:21-22; 27-28; 31-32; 33-34; 38-39; and 43-44.  However, in verse 26, His additional "I say to you" makes His use of the authoritative "I say to you" numbered seven times.  Six is the number representing man and rebellion in Scripture while seven represents fullness, completion, and especially spiritual perfection.  The seven times repetition of Jesus' command "I say to you" emphasizes the spiritual perfection to which He calls Christian disciples of all generations.   See the document The Significance of Numbers in Scripture

#1: Teaching about Unrighteous Anger

Matthew 5:21-26 ~ Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.'  22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna.  23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.  Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny."

Note: "gifts" for Yahweh brought to the altar of sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple were animals for sacrifice, grain offerings/unleavened bread offerings, and wine libations.  The gifts brought to God's altar in the celebration of the Mass are gifts of wine and unleavened bread that will become the un-bloody and on-going sacrifice of the glorified Jesus Christ.

In this passage, Jesus addresses the destructive power of unrighteous anger.  Righteous anger directed toward injustice and sin is permitted within limits.  It is permitted to hate a sin like abortion and to feel righteous anger with those who participate in the murder of babies.  Righteous anger can be constructively generated into taking a public stand against such sins.  However, it is not permitted to let that anger fuel personal hatred and violence.  Jesus begins this teaching about unrighteous, destructive anger by referencing the Old Covenant commandment You shall not murder ("murder" is a more accurate translation than "kill" because this action refers to the shedding of innocent blood; see Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17). Jesus raises the bar on the commandment "You shall not murder" by addressing the root of the act of shedding innocent blood, which is unrighteous anger. 

The little parable in verses 25-26 compares a civil judgment against a law-breaker with sin and the verdict of God as the divine judge who sends the sinner to his deserved punishment in Sheol. Sheol/Hades is the abode of the dead in the old covenants and the destination of both the righteous and the sinner before the Resurrection; (see CCC 633; Lk 16:19-31). There are four words that deserve our attention in this passage: raqa, moros, Gehenna, and Sanhedrin. 

  1. Most Bible translations interpret the Aramaic word raqa/raca as "insults."  It is a Semitism that scholars tell us is not an easy word to translate.  It can mean "foolish," "stupid," "blockhead," or "crazy;" but in any case, it is an expression of reproach and conveys contempt for a person.  That this Aramaic word is used in the Greek New Testament text without any explanation or translation is probably evidence that it was widely used in Jesus' time as an insult.  It is believed that the Aramaic word raca conveyed the description of one who is devoid of all moral and religious sense so as to become an apostate, meaning one who separates from the covenant with God.  For the Jew, the degree of contempt for such a person approaches hatred and condemnation for such a person in this life and in the next. 
  2.  The other word translated as "fool" is in the Greek moros from which we get our word "moron," one devoid of any sense.  But most scholars believe this Greek word does not give the full force of the meaning of the Aramaic word Jesus used.  From the progression of the severity of judgment in this passage, we are led to understand that this word carries more force than raca.  
  3. The word Gehenna is not found in the Old Testament. Jesus uses it in the New Testament to identify the "lake of fire" also called the "bottomless pit" created for Satan and his demons.  We would call it the "Hell of the damned."  It is a place of eternal punishment.  In the Old Testament, blessings and punishments were temporal, but in the New Covenant in Christ blessings and punishments are eternal!
  4. The Sanhedrin was the highest judicial body of the Old Covenant people.  In the 1st century BC, Judah became the Roman province of Judea, but the Romans allowed the Jews to control their own civil and religious courts of judgment.

In this passage, Jesus points to three degrees of faults and their corresponding punishments or judgments committed against charity (charity is defined as love in action).  St. Augustine notes that our Lord points to three faults we commit moving from internal irritation to showing a total lack of love (Augustine, Homilies on the Sermon on the Mount, II.9).

Fault Corresponding judgment
1. Feeling angry (verse 22a) Falling under the "judgment" of God
2. Insulting remark (verse 22b) Chastisement of "the Sanhedrin" (the council of judgment)
3. Hatred (verse 22c) Eternal punishment "by the fires of Gehenna/Hell"

Jesus teaches that anger, coming to the point of endangering our immortal souls, is generated by a sin that begins in the heart. The heart must be purified before the sin can manifest in an action that can have eternal consequences. Notice that Jesus imposes a restriction on worshipers in Matthew 5:23-26. Reconciliation of "anger against a brother" (a member of the covenant community) or "an opponent" is urged before one comes to worship God at His holy altar.  One must not come to God's sacrificial altar with the sin of anger in one's heart.  The Rite of Peace in the celebration of the Mass allows the Catholic faithful one final opportunity to make amends before coming forward to the altar to receive the Lord in the Eucharist. 

Jesus tells a short parable in verses 25-26 to illustrate the dangers of the internal sin of anger.  The severe judgment of the Judge in the parable is a warning of the fate in store for unrepentant sinners when they stand before the judgment throne of God: 25 "Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.  Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny" (underlining added).  The judgment in the parable is not eternal punishment but is another kind of punishment for the sin of an angry and unforgiving heart.  The "prison" Jesus mentions is a metaphor for the punishing side of Sheol (the Hebrew word for the grave or netherworld called "Hades" in the Greek) for those who died prior to Christ's Passion and Resurrection, or the purification available to the Christian soul in Purgatory (see Mt 5:25-26; Lk 16:22-26, and CCC 633, 1030-32). 

Jesus cannot be referring to Gehenna, or eternal punishment (Hell), because there is no "release" from Hell/Gehenna, whereas in Jesus' parable there is the promise of a release: "Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny" (Mt 5:26; underlining added).  There is a release from the state of Purgatory for those purified of remaining venial sins or mortal sins that are forgiven but for which penance is still due. For more references to Purgatory see CCC 1033-36; 1 Cor 3:10; 1 Pt 3:19; 4:1; 4:6, 12).  Sheol, the abode of the dead, is often referred to as "prison" in the Old and New Testaments (see Ps 142:7; 1 Pt 3:19 and CCC 633).  Jesus will use the Hebrew word "Amen in Hebrew =emen," as He does at the beginning of verse 26 when He wants to emphasize a statement.  It is a Semitic acrostic used as an emphatic statement to mean "It is true" or "I believe" and is formed from the Hebrew words for "God is a trustworthy king": El Melech Ne'eman (see Rev 3:14; The Jewish Book of Why, vol. I, pages 152-153; Talmud: Shabbat, 119b).

#2: Teaching about Sexual Immorality

Matthew 5:27-30 ~ "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna."
Once again Jesus refers to the Ten Commandments, this time concerning the prohibition against adultery (see Ex 20:14; Lev 20:10-13; Dt 5:18) And once again He raises the standard of conduct by addressing the interior root of the sin using the formula "But I say to you."  Jesus raises the standard beyond the infidelity of a married or betrothed person. The lustful thought or glance at any woman, whether she is married or not, is now judged to be a sin.  Under the Old Law, only adultery and coveting one's neighbor's wife were considered sinful.  Now, Jesus is teaching that to have impure thoughts about a woman who is not one's wife or to look at any woman with lust (disordered desires) not only soils the soul of the man but is also a design toward denigrating the holiness of the woman. 

There is a difference between right desire between a man and a woman joined in a covenantal union of marriage who give themselves to each other unselfishly in love as opposed to lust which is a disordered desire that is selfishly motivated to use the other person for sexual gratification. Notice that Jesus says the sin begins in the heart.  It is the heart which represents the total character, intellect, and will of a person.  Then in verses 29-30 Jesus uses hyperbole (an exaggerated statement) to emphasize that no sacrifice of disordered personal desire is too great in order to avoid the judgment of an eternity in Gehenna (the Hell of the damned).

#3: Teaching about Divorce

Matthew 5:31-32 ~ "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.'  32 But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Marriage was considered "unlawful" under the Law of the Sinai Covenant when the kinship relationship was considered too close (see Lev 18:6-18).  Divorce for other reasons was not permitted under the Sinai Covenant until Moses permitted divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  Moses permitted divorce for "something indecent" which could refer to adultery but could also be loosely interpreted to be anything that displeased a husband. 

Although God allowed Moses to make this exception, Jesus is clearly teaching that divorce is a sin.  This interpretation is supported by an exchange Jesus had with some Pharisees in Matthew 19:1-9 where He stated that any dissolution of a marital covenant union was a sin with the exception of unlawful marriages (also see Acts 15:29).  In the Matthew 19 passage, the Pharisees asked Jesus why then did Moses allow divorce.  Jesus replied Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  Then, using the formula statement emphasizing His authority, Jesus said, I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery; repeating His statement in Matthew 5:32.

The Catholic Church has remained faithful to Jesus' teaching concerning the sanctity of marriage: Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law.  It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death.  Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign.  Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery... (CCC #2384; also see CCC #s 1650-51; 2382; 2385-86).

#4: Teaching about the Swearing of Oaths

Matthew 5:33-37 ~ "Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.'  34 But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  36 Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.  37 Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one."
Jesus names four subjects by which oaths must not be sworn: one must not swear by heaven, by earth, by the holy city of Jerusalem, nor by their own person.  What these have in common is that God has dominion over all of them.  This teaching is often misunderstood.  Jesus is not forbidding all oath-swearing but is instead cautioning against frivolous oath-swearing.  To swear an oath is a serious affair because it invokes divine action.  An oath calls upon God to be the judge of the oath-maker and his oath, and if the oath-maker fails in his/her obligations, God delivers the judgment. Evidently, in Jesus' time, people were making frivolous vows and abusing the use God's name in their oaths.

In addressing the serious offense of unnecessary oath-swearing, Jesus calls His disciples to exhibit the virtues of truthfulness, sincerity, and acts of virtuous solemnity:

  1. Truthfully say what you will or will not do.
  2. Be sincere in your promises.
  3. Solemnly carry out what you have said you will do.

The act of oath-swearing in fact, presupposes untruthfulness.  Jesus reminds His disciples that to tell a lie or to try to "spin" the truth (a common practice then as today) places us within the realm of the "prince of lies" who is the devil: Jesus said:  "Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one."  Jesus is calling the Christian disciple to a higher standard of truthfulness that makes oath-swearing unnecessary (see CCC 2150-54).

For the last two of Jesus' teachings on the "Six Antitheses" see the Gospel of Matthew Lesson 9 or next week's Gospel Reading study on the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A.

Chart of the liturgy of worship in the Old Covenant to the transformed liturgy of worship in the New Covenant in Christ:

Old Covenant Liturgical Worship New Covenant Liturgical Worship
The centralized Church hierarchy located in Jerusalem. The centralized Church hierarchy located in Rome.
The ministerial priesthood. The ministerial priesthood.
The altar of sacrifice. The altar that represents the table of the Last Supper, the empty tomb, and the sacrificial altar.
Holy water for ritual purification.  Holy water to signify interior purification.
Incense in worship representing the prayers of the people rising up to heaven. Incense in worship representing the prayers of the people rising up to heaven.
Hymns from the psalms and music. Hymns including those from the psalms and music.
Prayers and petitions of the faithful offered to God. Prayers and petitions of the faithful offered to God.
Readings from Sacred Scripture: the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets. Readings from Sacred Scripture: the Old Testament, the New Testament Gospels, Acts and the Epistles.
Annual Holy Feasts remembering the history of the birth of Israel and the Church of the Sinai Covenant. Annual Holy Feasts remembering the birth of Jesus and history of the New Covenant Church.
The Tamid: a single sacrifice of two unblemished male lambs twice daily, seven days a week, for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people.  It was the most important of all sacrifices and was commanded to be a perpetual sacrifice for all generations. The Eucharist: a perpetual sacrifice of the risen Jesus in His humanity and divinity, offered every hour of the day around the world for the atonement and sanctification of all the covenant people of God for all generations.
Confession of sin to a priest resulting in God's forgiveness. Confession of sin to a priest resulting in God's forgiveness.
Michal E. Hunt © October 2005

God loves the beauty and the rituals of the liturgy of worship. He defined the rituals of the liturgy of worship in Exodus chapters 25-40, and He never ordained the end of those rituals. In fact, Catholic liturgy has all those same elements of worship: ordained priests in liturgical vestments, incense, hymns and psalms, an altar of sacrifice, an unblemished sacrifice in Christ, the "Lamb of God" who takes away the sins of the world, and in a sacred communion meal (called the Toda in Hebrew, meaning "thanksgiving" in English and "Eucharistia" in Greek) that is the climax of the liturgy of worship

Catechism References:

1 Corinthians 2:6-10 (CCC 221); 2:7-9 (CCC 1998); 2:8 (CCC 446, 498, 598); 2:9 (CCC 1027)

Matthew 5:17-19 (CCC 577, 592, 1967); 5:17 (CCC 2053); 5:20 (CCC 2054); 5:21-22 (CCC 2054, 2257), 5:21 (CCC 2262, 2302); 5:22-39 (CCC 2262); 5:22 (CCC 678, 1034, 2302); 5:23-24 (CCC 2608, 2792, 2841, 2845); 5:24 (CCC 1424); 5:27-28 (CCC 2330, 2336, 2380); 5:28 (CCC 1456, 2513, 2528); 5:29-30 (CCC 226); 5:29 (CCC 1034); 5:31-32 (CCC 2382), 5:32 ("CCC" 2380); 5:33-34 (CCC 581, 2141, 2153); 5:33 (CCC 592, 2463); 5:37 (CCC 2150-54, 2338, 2466)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017