Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A, February 16, 2020
Matthew 5: 13-16
"Jesus the Teacher" - By Deacon Helen Schwinden
The Gospel begins with a general statement that expresses how Jesus has come, not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Used in this context, "fulfill" means to complete. Jesus' teaching not only completes the law, but in him—in his very person, message, and mission—he completes and perfects the law.
Today's Scripture also continues to present Jesus as a teacher true to Jewish tradition, which emphasized the importance of action. The Old Testament Scriptures constantly insist that the Law must not be simply taught and heard; above all, it must direct one's behavior in all aspects of life.
Jesus' view of righteousness, right relationships according to God's teaching, exceeds that of scribes and Pharisees, and it is his interpretation of the Law that rules in the Kingdom of Heaven. Disciples who participate in God's final rule, inaugurated in Jesus, must live by Jesus' teaching.
What follows includes three statements, contrasting the prevailing understanding of the Law that is ("You have heard") with what Jesus said ("But I say to you"). The first statement contrast or reinterprets the command against murder. For Jesus, the prohibition certainly stands, but his view of right relationships probes before such a heinous act. Long before the loss of control that leads to killing another person, perceptions and attitudes toward the other must be uncovered and transformed. Jesus' teaching on offering ritual worship would surely bring gasps from any observant Jew. It would be unthinkable to excuse oneself from participating in the all-important offering of sacrifice, by means of which God and the people were united. But Jesus insists that damaged or broken relationships with other members of the community prevents such a union, and so reconciliation with a brother or sister must come first, before the beginning of true worship.
In the second statement, Jesus continues emphasizing the importance of inward attitudes in his instruction on the commandment against adultery. What leads to such an act begins in the heart, which is understood as the core of a person and the source of decision and action. That is Jesus' command prohibits entertaining lustful desires. The proverbs that call for excising body parts that seem the source of sin are not meant literally. They are concrete examples insisting that whatever leads to sin, no matter how cherished, must be surrendered.
In the third statement, Jesus' prohibition against all oaths is somewhat obscure and has received various interpretations. While the Jewish law prohibits false oaths, Jesus is uncomplicated and straightforward, forbidding any swearing of oaths at all. Jesus concludes by exhorting his disciples to say "yes" and "no" and follow through on what they say. One view holds that since an oath called upon God to verify the truth of one's claim, the act could be viewed as an attempt to control God. More important than the negative order is the positive command to speak the truth to one another in a simple, straightforward manner.
In essence, Jesus calls his disciples, and your proclamation today calls the assembly, to speak the truth of Jesus—the unity of his person, message, and mission. Following the parallel structure of the three examples will help you achieve this goal and assist us in knowing that we can be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.