Readings: Sirach 15:15‑20 1 Corinthians 2:6‑10
“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.
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."