Monday, March 20, 2017

LENT IV

4th Sunday of Lent A

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13   Ephesians 5:8-14   John 9:1-41

The Fourth Sunday of Lent presents a rich cluster of baptismal symbols and images (anointing with oil, light vs. darkness, sight vs. blindness) as it challenges us to learn that God’s ways often overturn human expectations and standards.  Let us entrust ourselves to the Lord’s mysterious guidance in the words of the responsorial psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1).
In the first reading, both Samuel and Jesse are confronted with the Lord’s surprising choice of David as the future king of Israel despite his being Jesse’s youngest son who had the lowly job of tending sheep.  When Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to designate one of Jesse’s sons to replace the rejected Saul, he naturally expects to anoint the eldest son Eliab, but the Lord tells him, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him.  Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”  After Jesse has presented his seven oldest sons, Samuel again tells him “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”  Only as an afterthought does Jesse remember his youngest son David, who is tending sheep; yet, in God’s plan, this unlikely lad is designated as the anointed one who is endowed with the rush of the Lord’s spirit.
The Ephesians reading is an exhortation to the Gentiles, who before their conversion to Christianity were in “darkness” but have now become “light in the Lord.”  The letter constantly emphasizes the difference between the standards of the world and those of the Church which has been loved by Christ as a bride and is called to live that love in a hostile environment.  In this section, Paul is reminding these converts that at baptism they turned from a fruitless life of darkness (immorality, impurity, greed, obscene talk and idolatry).  Now he encourages them to “live as children of the light” by producing “every kind of goodness and justice and truth.”  The section concludes with what is probably part of an early Christian baptismal hymn which alerts the believer to the newness of life offered by Christ. “Awake, O sleeper,/ arise from the dead,/ And Christ will give you light.”
Jesus’ curing of the man born blind in John 9 continues the baptismal theme of Jesus as the light of the world.  Before he cures the blind man, Jesus announces to his disciples that the man’s physical blindness is not due to sin.  Rather, his blindness will serve to manifest the works of God done through Jesus as “the light of the world.”  For John, the only sin/blindness is the unbelief of the Pharisees who refuse to accept Jesus as coming from God.

In the dialogues which follow the cure, the blind man comes to gradual belief in Jesus despite official opposition from the Pharisees.  During the interrogation by his neighbors, the man admits that he is the one cured by “the man called Jesus.”  But when questioned by the Pharisees, who will not accept Jesus as a man from God because he has cured on the Sabbath, the man confesses that Jesus is a “prophet.”  His parents, however, will not make any profession of faith, “because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.”  In a second highly ironic dialogue with the Pharisees, the cured man insists that Jesus must be from God if God has listened to him in opening the eyes of a man born blind.  At the same time the Pharisees ironically say that both Jesus and the former blind man are “sinners,” while they are “disciples of Moses.”  Finally, after the Pharisees have “cast him out,” the man comes to Jesus and to full belief in him as “Son of Man.”
The incident ends with a final dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees which ties together the themes of seeing/belief and blindness/sin.  After the cured man has worshiped him, Jesus solemnly announces, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”  The Pharisees then asks, “Are we blind also?” Harkening back to the blind man’s physical blindness and the Pharisees righteous refusal to accept him, Jesus responds, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

As we move toward the renewal of our baptismal commitment at Easter, we are called, like the man born blind, to open our eyes in courageous faith and embrace Jesus as light in a darkened and hostile world.

Monday, March 13, 2017

LENT IIIA

3rd Sunday of Lent A

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7   Romans 5:1-14   John 4:5-42

“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  This question tested the Exodus generation in the wilderness and the Samaritan woman and her kinsfolk, and it continues to challenge the Christian community as it moves toward the renewal of its baptismal commitment at the Easter Vigil.  We Christians thirst for the life-giving water of Jesus’ revelation while we live in the time between his saving death and resurrection and the completion of God’s kingdom.
The story of the water from the rock in Exodus 17 has been chosen for its relation to the Gospel selection from John in which Jesus proclaims to the Samaritan woman that he is “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  The Israelites’ journey from Egypt through the wilderness is a time of danger and testing.  They encounter numerous obstacles as they move from one camping place to another: bitter water, lack of food and water, and an attack from the fierce Amalekites.  In most cases they are fearful and complaining, unprepared for the challenge of faith and nostalgically longing for a return to the security of Egypt.  In this Sunday’s reading, they grumble against Moses and say, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?  Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?”  Their whole demeanor can be summed up in the words spoken at Massah and Meribah as they quarreled and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  Yet the Lord consistently meets their grumbling with his provident care.  In our selection, he gives instructions for Moses to use his staff to bring forth water from the rock “for the people to drink.”
In the reading from Romans, Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to joyfully live out the consequences of Christ’s saving death and resurrection.  He uses several metaphors to express what Christ has done for them by dying and rising from the dead.  He has “justified (them) by faith,” made them “at peace with God,” given them “access to grace.”  But, although in one sense salvation has been achieved in Christ, Paul is also aware that it is not complete.  Christ’s death has made salvation accessible, but the Christian community must endure in faith and hope until Christ’s return.  The source of Christian hope in this time of suffering and testing is what God has already done for humanity through the death of Christ.  “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
In the unforgettable dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, John presents Jesus as the gift of God who offers “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” to a woman who is a sinner and outcast by the standards of contemporary Judaism.  By the end of this long, but intricately interconnected episode, the woman has become an apostle whose testimony brings many Samaritans to belief in Jesus.

The dialogue uses John’s typical instruction pattern of irony and misunderstanding.  Jesus is tired from his journey through Samaritan territory and sits down in the heat of the midday sun at Jacob’s well in Shechem.  When he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, she apparently refuses and points out the well-known antipathy between Jews and Samaritans.  Jesus then challenges her to request the “living water” which he can give as God’s gift (salvation).  Ironically, she thinks Jesus is referring to running spring water and points out that he has no bucket to draw water from the deep well and that he is surely not greater than the Samaritans’ ancestor, Jacob, who founded this well.  Jesus then replies that the water he gives will overcome thirst and become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The Christian reader understands this as a beautiful description of baptism, but when the woman still interprets his language on a natural level, Jesus offers her a sign of his supernatural knowledge of her sinful past: she has had five husbands and the man she is now living with is not her husband.  This moves the woman to recognize Jesus as a prophet, and she proceeds to question him about whether the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim or the Jewish temple in Jerusalem is the proper locale for worship.  Jesus responds by proclaiming that an hour is coming when authentic worship of the Father will not depend upon place, but will be done “in Spirit and truth” (a reference to the gift of God’s love through the Son).  With this revelation, the woman realizes that God’s Messiah may be standing before her, and, with Jesus’ proclamation that “I am he” ringing in her ears, she leaves her now useless water jar and goes to invite the townspeople to see the man “who told me everything I have done.”  By the end of the episode the Samaritan woman has become a full believer and witness to Christ.  In fact, as the other Samaritans come to believe in Jesus on the basis of his own word, the Samaritan woman, like John the Baptist (3:22-30), rejoices greatly as she decreases and Jesus increases.  Let us, like the Samaritan woman, take the challenge of today’s psalm response and turn to the life-giving water that is Christ: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95). 

Monday, March 6, 2017

LENT IIA

2nd Sunday of Lent A

Readings: Genesis 12:1‑4  2 Timothy 1:8‑10  Matthew 17:1‑9

            In this Sunday's readings God calls us to journey in trust that his promises of blessing will be fulfilled in Jesus, who by his death and resurrection "has robbed death of its power and has brought life and immortality into clear light through the gospel" (2 Tim 1:10).  Let us embrace our Lenten penance, as we sing the refrain for this week's responsorial psalm: "Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you" (Ps 33).
            In the Old Testament reading, Abram's obedient trust stands in sharp contrast to Adam and Eve in last Sunday's first reading.   Rather than obediently trusting God's command to not eat of the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve grasped at godlike power for the sake of sensual, aesthetic, and intellectual fulfillment.  With the call of Abram, God begins again with one man to try to restore blessing to a curse ridden human family.  God commands Abram to abandon land, family, and home and to journey to an unknown land that he will show him.  A series of promises, offering hope for a new future, accompanies the call.  The Lord promises to make Abram a great nation; he will be blessed; his name will be so great that it will be a blessing; and all the families of the earth will find blessing in him.  Despite his advanced age and Sarai's barrenness, Abram in obedient trust departs "as the Lord directed him."
            In the second reading Timothy is being asked to bear his "share of the hardship which the gospel entails" by preaching the gospel without fear and protecting it from false teaching.  The reason Timothy may confidently undertake this task is the very gospel itself which Paul states in a summary fashion.  Christians are saved from the power of evil and called to live holy lives, not by any merit of their own, but because of what God has done for them in Christ. In the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, God has defeated sin and "robbed death of its power and has brought life and immortality into clear light through the gospel."
            On the second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading is always the story of Jesus' transfiguration.  Early in our Lenten journey on the path of the suffering Jesus, we‑‑ like Peter, James, and John‑‑ are given a vision of Jesus' glory as God's beloved Son which will not be fully revealed until his resurrection.  In the previous chapter, after Peter confesses Jesus as "the Messiah, the Son of the living God," Jesus goes on to speak of his destiny to go to Jerusalem to suffer, be killed and on the third day be raised.   When Peter rebukes Jesus over the idea of his suffering, Jesus harshly condemns him as a "Satan" and warns of the need for his followers to take up their crosses and follow him.  In this frightening context, God's transfiguration of Jesus and the command to listen to his words takes on an added importance.


            In Matthew's account of the transfiguration God reveals Jesus as his final word, the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.  The event occurs on a high mountain, a place of revelation for Matthew (Matthew 5‑7; 28:16‑20; see Exodus 19‑40).   The radiance of Jesus' face and garments is reminiscent of Moses' transfiguration on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34) and indicates that now Jesus manifests the divine presence.  At the sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus, Peter proposes to build three booths honoring them equally.  With that a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice commands: "This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests.  Listen to him."  As at the baptism scene (Matt 3:17), God's heavenly voice reveals Jesus as the fullness of revelation in completion of the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah).  When the disciples hear the divine voice, they prostrate on the ground in fear.  But the scene ends with tender reassurance.  Jesus comes forward and lays his hand on them with a healing gesture (8:3,15;  9:25,29) and commands: "Get up!  Do not be afraid."   Having been given a reassuring preview of Jesus' glorious destiny, they resume their journey with Jesus to his death in Jerusalem.  As they descend the mountain, Jesus commands them: "Do not tell anyone of the vision until the Son of Man rises from the dead."   The only path to that glory is through the suffering and death which Jesus must endure.

Monday, February 27, 2017

LENT IA

1st Sunday of Lent A

Readings: Genesis 2:7‑9; 3:1‑7  Romans 5:12‑19  Matthew 4:1‑11

            As the Church begins its Lenten observance, we are presented with two radically different choices for human fulfillment.  In the Eden story, Adam and Eve choose to disobey God's command by eating from the tree of knowledge in an attempt to become "like gods who know what is good and what is bad."  In Matthew's temptation story, Jesus refuses to abuse his power for worldly gain and instead embraces God's will in trust, obedience, and adoration.  Let us begin Lent by accepting responsibility for our own sin and resolving with the help of God's mercy to begin again to follow the  obedient Jesus, as we pray in the words of the responsorial  psalm: "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned" (Ps 51).
            The Eden account is the story of us all in so far as we are sinners.  Like ’adam ("earthling"), we are both "clay of the ground" and yet also inspired with the very "breath" of God.  We, like the man and woman in the garden, have been given the task of responsibly cultivating and caring for this beautiful earth within the limits set by God.  And yet we, also like Adam and Eve, all too often succumb to the allurement of "having it all" by striving to become "like gods who know what is good and what is bad."  We too attempt to play God in our selfish pursuit of unlimited sensual gratification ("the tree was good for food"), aesthetic stimulation ("pleasing to the eyes"), and intellectual pride ("desirable for gaining wisdom").  For Adam and Eve, sin results, not in superhuman knowledge, but in a shameful realization "that they were naked."  Later, when confronted with their sin, both will excuse their action by blaming either God or the serpent (see 3:8‑13).  We also discover that sin results in shame, fear, alienation and evasion of responsibility before God.
            Lest we be overwhelmed with the enormity of sin, Paul in the Romans reading affirms Christ's victory over sin and death.  In this section Paul is explicating how Jesus' death and resurrection could bring salvation for all humanity.  He uses a typology contrasting Adam, as the old head of the race, with Christ, the new Adam.  Just as the disobedient act of the one  man unleashed sin and death, like two demonic powers, into the  world and brought condemnation in that all fell into sin, so the obedient act of Christ, the new man, has brought the gift of  righteousness and grace.  “For if by the offense of the one man all died, much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound for all. . . . Just as through one man's disobedience all became sinners, so through one man's obedience all shall become just.”

            Matthew's temptation story also presents Jesus in humble obedience to his Father's will as he begins his ministry.  Like Adam and Eve in Eden and Israel in the wilderness, Jesus is tested as he is led into the desert by the Spirit.  But, in contrast to his ancestors' disobedience, Jesus, as true Son of God and the true Israel, triumphs over the devil's temptations.

            The temptations have to do with how Jesus will act as the  Son of God, as is clear from the devil's opening words: "If you  are the Son of God . . ."  In the first temptation the devil  suggests that as Son of God Jesus work a miracle for his  own physical sustenance.  Jesus has fasted for forty days and nights, and now the tempter proposes: "command these stones to turn into bread." Jesus rejects the devil's trick by quoting a passage from Deuteronomy 8:3 which suggests that he, as God's Son, must draw his sustenance from obedient trust of God's word: "Scripture has it: `Not on bread alone does man live but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God.'"  The devil then twists Jesus' trust in God into presumption by suggesting that he throw himself from the parapet of the temple, for, according to Psalm 91, "(God) will bid his angels care for you . . ."   Quoting Deuteronomy again (6:16), Jesus retorts that true trust is obedient, not presumptive: "Scripture also has it: `You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"  Finally, abandoning all subtlety, the devil crassly offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world if he will prostrate himself in homage before him.  In his final response Jesus does not simply interpret Scripture (Deut 6:13) but also uses his power as God's obedient Son to drive Satan away. "Away with you Satan!  Scripture says, `You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore.'" At the end of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus will come to cosmic power (see Matt 28:16-20) but only after walking the path of suffering as God's obedient Son. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

8th Su day A

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings Isaiah 49:14-15       1 Corinthians 4:1-5     Matthew 6:24-34

            This Sunday’s liturgy proclaims God’s providential care for his people: the city of Jerusalem after its destruction by the armies of Babylon and Christian disciples who choose to serve God rather than glory or money.  Let us listen to the wisdom of God in the words of our responsorial psalm, “Only in God is my soul at rest;/ from him comes my salvation” (Ps 63:2).
            The Old Testament reading from the Book of Isaiah is addressed to the people of Jerusalem/Zion after the city’s destruction by the Babylonian armies in 587 B.C.  The Book of Lamentations gives a poignant picture of fallen Jerusalem as a widow who has been abandoned by her husband. “How lonely she is now,/ The once crowded city!/ Widowed is she/ who was mistress over nations;/ the princess among the provinces/ has become a toiling slave” (Lamentations 1:1).  The prophet picks up on this imagery of personifying Zion as a forgotten wife.  “Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me/ my Lord has forgotten me.’”  Then, using the striking image of the Lord as a mother to Jerusalem, the prophet affirms that she will never be forgotten by God.  “Can a mother forget her infant,/ be without tenderness for the child of her womb?/ Even should she forget,/ I will never forget you.”  In his providential care in fulfillment of this prophecy, the Lord raised up Cyrus the Persian to defeat Babylon, release the Jewish exiles and decree that they should return and rebuild the Lord’s temple (cf. Isaiah 44:24-28; 2 Chron 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).
            In the second reading Paul continues his argument that he and all true apostles are concerned with building up the Christian community and not with personal achievement.  Apostles are “servants of Christ and administrators of the mysteries of God” and not flashy workers of miracles that bring personal renown.  Administrators must prove to be trustworthy, not in human courts, but before the judgment seat of the Lord.  Although Paul has nothing on his conscience, he does not even pass judgment on himself and is convinced that the true apostle will be revealed at the triumphant return of Christ in judgment.  “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and manifest the intentions of hearts.  At that time, everyone will receive his praise from God.”

            The Gospel reading continues Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount with Jesus’ warning that his disciples must choose which kingdom they will serve: the perishable kingdom “on earth” or the lasting kingdom “in heaven.”  The choice of God over “mammon” should be a liberating one which frees them from anxiety over life, food, drink and clothing.  The basis for confidence in making the choice for the kingdom of God and his righteousness is the beautiful image of God who cares for “the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field.”  Jesus reminds his disciples that they are of much more value in their Father’s eyes than these.  This image of God’s providential care is not meant to encourage a kind of passive acceptance of the world as it is in all its injustice, but is to be a rock of hope in God’s care as one risks the daring life of choosing to serve God rather than worldly wealth.

Monday, February 13, 2017

7th Sunday A

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: Leviticus 19:1‑2, 17‑18  1 Corinthians 3:16‑23  Matthew  5:38‑48

            Today's readings challenge us with Jesus' two most radical ethical teachings: the command to demand no justice for injury and the command to love and pray for enemies.  As we struggle to be faithful to Jesus' revolutionary teaching, let us remember God's own mercy and pray in the words of our responsorial psalm: "The Lord is kind and merciful" (Ps 103:8a).
             The Lord's command to Moses in the first reading from Leviticus lays the foundation for Jesus' teaching about love of neighbor in the Sermon on the Mount.  First of all, the Lord commands Israel, "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy."  The word "holy," qadosh in Hebrew, means "separate" or "other."   Israel is to be different from the other nations by imitating God's own love.  The Lord commands them: "You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. . . . Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Jesus simply radicalizes these teachings of the Torah by extending them even to the love of one's enemy.
            In the second reading Paul continues his treatment of the problem of factionalism in the Corinthian church by reminding its members of their privileged status as "God’s temple" as the dwelling of God's Spirit.  He warns them that "God will destroy" anyone who "destroys God's temple" with a boastful factionalism rooted in claims to worldly wisdom.  The only way to  preserve the unity of "the temple" is for the Corinthians to give  up "their boasting about human beings" and embrace the folly of the cross by living the kind of radical love Jesus speaks about in today's gospel (see also 1 Corinthians 13).

            The Gospel completes Jesus' interpretation of his ancestors' Scriptures which began with last week's reading.  With the final two antitheses Jesus both overthrows and radicalizes commands in the Torah concerned with justice between "neighbors."  Originally, the law of retaliation ‑‑"an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,"‑‑ was a good command because it put a limit on the human tendency to take unlimited revenge for an injury done to one's person or family (see Ex 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21).  For Jesus' followers, however, a higher righteous is demanded‑‑ one that overturns the normal standards of all human justice systems.   When they have received an injury, Jesus' disciples are commanded not to seek the justice that a reasonable law would give them. "But what I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other as well.  If anyone wants to go to law over your tunic, hand him your coat as well. . . ." Only a few saints, who shared Jesus' vision of the "kingdom of heaven," have been able to follow this command.  Only when we have been remade by the grace of that kingdom will we be able to do the same.

The last of the antitheses radicalizes the love of the neighbor command from the Leviticus reading.  A popular interpretation of that command was to limit the term neighbor to one's fellow countryman and encourage hatred of foreign enemies. "You have heard the commandment, `You shall love your countryman but hate your enemy.'" Jesus rejects this narrow nationalistic reading and tells his followers: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  The basis Jesus offers for this radical teaching is found in our first reading from Leviticus where God commands Israel: "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy."   Jesus' revelation of God is that of a benevolent Father who is indiscriminate in his love.  To be children of such a Father is to imitate that unconditional love: “for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”  To only love those who love you is not to act as a true Israelite who has been grasped by God's kingdom, but is to behave like a tax collector or a pagan. “If you greet your brothers on, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?” Jesus' followers are commanded to imitate the perfection of God's indiscriminate love. “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Monday, February 6, 2017

6th Sunday A

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: Sirach 15:15‑20  1 Corinthians 2:6‑10  Matthew 5:17‑37

            “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come, not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17).  In today's Gospel Matthew presents Jesus as the final interpreter of God's revelation in the law and the prophets.  Let us confidently commit ourselves to follow Jesus' commands by praying the refrain of our responsorial psalm: "Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!" (Ps 119:1b).
            In the first reading Sirach is arguing against those who hold for a determinism that said  humans have no free will and that God forces some people into sin (Sirach 15:11‑12).  Against this position which would undermine any sense of responsibility for one's actions, Sirach asserts that humans are free to choose either life or death:  “If you choose you can keep the command-ments,/ they will save you . . ./ Before man are life and death,/ whichever he chooses shall be given him.”  Sirach concludes his exhortation by insisting that, although God's immense wisdom sees and understands all, "No one does he (God) command to act unjustly,/ to none does he give license to sin”.
            Our second reading from 1 Corinthians continues Paul's explication of the paradox of the cross of Christ.  His tone in this section is ironic and sarcastic.  Paul’s opponents at Corinth claim to have an elite status in the Christian community because of their superior "wisdom" which makes them spiritually “mature."  Paul uses their own language to ridicule their understanding of Christianity as belonging to "this age" which is "passing away."  The real "mysterious" and "hidden" wisdom of God is the cross of Christ which is completely incomprehensible to those who embrace Christianity out of a desire for worldly wisdom and status.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that this is a wisdom which "none of the rulers of this age knew for, if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory."
            For the next two Sundays the Gospel readings will be from  the section of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus  fulfills "the law and the prophets" by giving an authoritative  interpretation of six commandments in the Jewish Torah (Matt 5:17‑48). Each instance is introduced by slight variants of the same formula: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors. . . But I say to you . . .”   With God-like authority Jesus states the commands first spoken by God on Mount Sinai and then gives them their final meaning.  These six examples are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.  They give us a glimpse of how we are to live in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus warns his disciples that they are called to a higher righteousness than that of the legalistic scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20; see Matthew 23).

            Jesus fulfills the command against murder (Ex 20:13; Deut 5:17) by affirming it but then adding to its demands in a way which goes to the root cause of the sin. "But I say to you, who-ever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, `Raqa' ("empty‑headed"), will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, `You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna." For Jesus' followers, all acts of anger and abusive behavior toward human beings are equally serious.  Jesus then gives two parables as conclusions that follow from these demands.  First of all, reconciliation with the brother takes precedence over liturgical ritual.  "Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother . . ." Secondly, he urges his disciples to settle any judicial disputes before they come into the courts.   
            Likewise, Jesus affirms the command prohibiting adultery (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18) and goes on to condemn the interior attitude which leads to the act."  But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." A woman's dignity is so sacred that it is not to be violated even by the lustful intentions of men.  The sayings about the "right eye" and "right hand" which follow are hyperboles which stress removing the cause of sin so as not to risk losing the whole of one's life in Gehenna (Hell).
            Jesus' interpretations of the commands allowing divorce and oaths actually overturn the old law.  Rather than allowing men to dismiss women with "a bill of divorce" for the slightest of reasons (see Deuteronomy 24), Jesus declares: ". . . whoever divorces his wife-- unless the marriage is unlawful-- causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."  In the context of the Judaism of Jesus and Matthew’s day, this command protected women's rights against the arbitrary actions of their husbands. 

Finally, Jesus' command prohibiting the use of oaths and vows which were allowed in Jewish law (see Ex 20:7; Lev 19:12; Num 30:3; Deut 23:22) is designed to protect the name of the all truthful God from being brought into our petty human affairs where we all too often lie and cheat.  We humans are not to imagine that God is at our beck and call to witness our oaths and vows.  Rather, we are to aim at truthfulness and honesty in our dealings with others. "But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. . . . Let your `Yes' mean `Yes,' and your `No' mean `No.' Anything more is from the evil one."