The fullness of the law

Download PDF

Mt 5:17-37

‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. In truth I tell you, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, is to disappear from the Law until all its purpose is achieved. Therefore, anyone who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but the person who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven. ‘For I tell you, if your uprightness does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of Heaven. ‘You have heard how it was said to our ancestors, You shall not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will answer for it before the court; anyone who calls a brother “Fool” will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and anyone who calls him “Traitor” will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. In truth I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny. ‘You have heard how it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell. ‘It has also been said, Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of an illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. ‘Again, you have heard how it was said to our ancestors, You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the Evil One.

The great theme of the first part of this gospel is faithfulness to the commandments we have received from God. Jesus does not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it. He helps us to understand it better in its deepest sense. For example, He makes it clear to us that we will not only be held accountable before the court for killing, but long before that, for having stripped our brother of his honour, for having offended or insulted him. In one way or another, by these acts he is also being killed, and this is an abomination in the sight of God! If the Lord even calls us to pray for our enemies (cf. Mt 5:44), what a great offence to love it is to insult one’s own brother!

God’s tender love must become a reality among us men. But since we do not yet fully understand this love, the Lord explains it to us again and again; and, what is more, He pours it into our hearts through His Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5).

The following example that the Lord gives us in today’s Gospel also relates to the way God wants us to treat one another. Before we come before the Lord, we are to clear up any differences we may have with our brother, we are to put things right with him, so that nothing comes between God and us. For only a reconciled heart can be receptive to God’s love, because it is not closed in on itself. Even with our adversary we must make peace.

In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord shows us in a very concrete way the content and purpose of the commandments. He tells us clearly that marriage is indissoluble, as the Church teaches. This is a truth that is less and less understood and practised in today’s society. The high dignity of marriage is linked to the uniqueness of the union between man and woman, embracing body, soul and spirit. From this arises a bond that must last a lifetime, also to safeguard the security of children.

The Lord then goes on to explain the oath. At the end He makes it clear that we do not really need to swear, for God wants us to be clear: that our yes is a yes, and our no is a resounding no. This “yes” or “no” is a “yes” or a “no”. This “yes” or “no” has to extend to our whole life, for it relates to the honesty and clarity that God wants from us. Of course we must keep what we have promised, but there is no need to swear. Our whole life must be consistent with our principles; we cannot leave the doors open when it is time to make decisions. It would be preferable to make mistakes from time to time and then correct them, than to be always avoiding decisions.

We see, then, that in Jesus the Revelation to the People of Israel continues; or rather, all Revelation prior to His coming flows into Him and finds its fullness and fulfilment in Him. In following Jesus, His love makes us what we are called to be. Love and truth form an indissoluble union, and we are inserted into it. In other words: Jesus, who is Truth itself because He is the Son of God, welcomes us into the mystery of divine love. In Him we find our home and our search becomes different. If before we were searching for God, it is now up to us to put the love we have found into practice, both in our intimate relationship with God and in our relationship with people.