Gospel of Sunday February, 12: Matthew 5, 17-37
Gospel of Sunday February, 12 / VI Sunday Year A: Matthew 5:17-37
The Fulfillment of the Law
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.
26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’
32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’
34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one”.
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Today I share with you a brief meditation on the Gospel, with particular reference to the theme of mercy.
The famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5-7) is fundamental to our understanding of Christianity.
Some, such as Paul Billerbeck and Benedict XVI, see it in the wake of the great rabbinic tradition. Joachim Jeremias frames it in the thought of late Judaism and sees three possible interpretations.
The “perfectionist” one: Jesus asks his disciples for the radical observance of the Torah.
That of “impracticability”, the interpretation of Lutheran orthodoxy: Jesus wants to make his listeners aware of their inability to accomplish by their own strength what God demands, and thus to trust in a salvation that comes only from God.
The ‘eschatological’ one, which reads in the discourse a set of exceptional laws, valid in times of crisis, in the form of an incitement to the extreme stretching of forces before catastrophe.
By contrast, for Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Jesus completely breaks with the Torah, claiming to place himself above it.
“Jesus allegedly even taught to violate some of the Commandments: the third, which mandates the sanctification of the Sabbath, the fourth, that of love for one’s parents, and finally the prescription of holiness.
Jesus pretends to take the place of the Sabbath (cf. Mt 12:8: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”) and of parents (cf. Mt 10:37: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”) and makes holiness consist in following himself” (B. Forte).
Jesus begins his discourse by assuring that he did not come to abrogate the Torah but to complete it and give it the ultimate and definitive interpretation, after which there will be no other.
Matthew wrote his Gospel for the Jews, and therefore it was particularly cogent to explain this relationship between the Mosaic tradition and the novelty of the Gospel.
But for Jesus, the observance indicated by the theologians of the time, the scribes and Pharisees, is not sufficient: he wants a greater, more abundant righteousness (“perissèuo”: Mt 5:20), which goes beyond traditional interpretations.
This is why Jesus, in today’s Gospel passage, presents four antitheses: “You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not kill’ (Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17).
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgment…”.
It is not enough for Jesus to forbid murder.
He wants to curb the aggressiveness inherent in the heart of man, to extinguish anger before it expresses itself in violence, to stop that chatter that Pope Francis calls “a lethal weapon, which kills, kills love, kills society, kills brotherhood”.
Already rabbis said that “he who hates his neighbour is a murderer”.
Jesus therefore goes to the root of the commandment and translates it into: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5); “Learn from me, who am meek and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29).
The second and third antitheses concern sexuality.
For Jesus it is not enough: “Do not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18).
He wants to curb the desire for possession, the lusting after another person in order to take possession of them.
The whole body with its sexuality must be ordered not to selfish pleasure but to love, to deep relationship, to mutual gift.
This is why Jesus says, as he will reiterate in Matthew 19:1-19, that God does not want repudiation, but that the love between the two should be exclusive and forever.
The passage from Matthew presents, along with the rejection of divorce, the famous incision that has caused so much discussion: “Whoever repudiates his wife, except in the case of porneìa, exposes her to adultery” (Mt 5:32; cf. 19:9).
Surely porneìa is not concubinage, as the 1971 Italian Bishops’ Conference Bible translated it, because it is hard to see why the evangelist should make a specific exception for something obvious.
The most reliable exegesis today points out that the incision of porneìa appears only in the Gospel of Matthew, who writes for the converted Jews of the communities of Palestine and Syria: They continued to adhere to Jewish customs that forbade zenut, or “prostitution” according to rabbinic writings, i.e. those unions considered incestuous because they were marked by a degree of kinship forbidden in the book of Leviticus (Lev 18:6-18), such as marriage with a stepmother or half-sister, unions that were often instead permitted by Roman legislation.
Hence the conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem, which established the necessity for all to abstain also “from porneìa” (Acts 15:20, 29), that is, from those unions which, although considered valid in Roman law, were to be considered null and void, because incestuous, according to Jewish legislation: in this case, the Christian could not only dissolve the union but, as it was not a valid marriage, he had the duty to get rid of it.
It would be the same porneìa against which Paul would rage, condemning “at the mercy of Satan such a one cohabiting with his father’s wife” (1 Cor 5:1-5). Accepting this interpretation, the 2008 Italian Bishops’ Conference Bible translates porneìa as ‘illegitimate union’.
The fourth antithesis concerns the authenticity of interpersonal relationships. It is not enough: “Do not bear false witness” (Ex 20:16-Dt 5:20). One’s speech must always be clear, to the point that it is not necessary to call God as a witness: “Let your speech be yes, yes; no, no; the more is from the evil one” (Mt 5:37).
In this way the Law of God is made explicit in its depth and radicality. Only Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, could present himself as the ultimate and definitive Moses.
Good Mercy to all!
Whoever would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some in-depth analysis, please ask me at email@example.com.