Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2017

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay

“You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…”

This basic structure or pattern repeats itself over and over again in this section of ‘The Sermon On the Mount’.  We find it three or four times in our gospel today.  Jesus quotes the Torah, a passage from the Law of Moses, then he offers his own commentary or interpretation of this Law.  So again, “You have heard that it was said…  then there is a ‘Torah passage’, followed by, ‘but I say to you’, then there is ‘Jesus teaching’ on the same question.”

In each case the teaching of Jesus goes beyond the requirements of the law.  The teaching of Jesus stands as a ‘fulfillment’ of the Law, it goes to the heart of the law and unveils and unfolds its true meaning or intent.  As today’s Gospel also says,  “Do not think that I’ve come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.’’ This has long been a difficult question for Christians to unravel.  What is the relationship between law and gospel?  Between the core teaching of the first covenant with the Jewish people, as distilled and summarized in the precepts of the law of Moses, and the teaching of Jesus, the good news the unmerited gift of salvation in Christ?  A salvation which is achieved, as St. Paul says, “Apart from the works of the law” Rom. 3:28

Clearly, the gospel of Matthew in the Sermon On the Mount is presenting Jesus as the New Moses, teacher of the New Law. Not an exterior Law, written on tablets of stone, but a Law written on our hearts. Just like Moses, Jesus delivers this teaching on a Mountain. Jesus is the one who teaches with authority, not like they are used to from the scribes and the Pharisees.  Jesus is not like the other teachers, he speaks from the heart, not just citing other rabbis to give weight to his own particular interpretation of the Law.  Jesus speaks from the heart, in the first person,  “But I say to you’’.  Over and over again in his teaching Jesus. cuts in the quick, pulls no punches, goes right to the heart of the Law, teaches the fulfillment of the core teaching of Torah.  Listen to Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” Listen again to Jesus,  “Do to others as you would have them do you; for this is the Law and the Prophets’’. Mat. 7:12

For as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.’’ Rom. 13:10. And again, in his letter to the Galatians, when it comes to things like love, joy, peace, and patience, St. Paul tells us, “Against such things there is no Law.’’ Gal. 5:23. Or, as St. John of the Cross puts it, “In the evening of this life we will be judged on love.’’

Does this mean that Jesus’ interpretation of the law is soft and mushy?  So filled with tenderness, compassion, mercy, and love, that it no longer has any bite, any moral weight or thickness?  Makes no demands on our moral lives? Slips easily into a soft moral relativism? On the contrary, as today’s gospel also tells us, “For truly I’d tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished’’.

The Law of Love, the priority of mercy, does not abolish the law, but fulfills it.  We are still called to a radical conversion of life style, an increasingly counter cultural way of life.  “Neither do I condemn you’, says Jesus, but he also says, ‘Go and sin no more.’’ We are called to enter into the,  “But I say to you’’.  Called to do away with anger and slander, the lustful heart, the temporary marriage, the moral life lived simply of our own resolution and effort.  We are called to a great simplicity, costing not less than everything, as the poet says, where our yes is yes and our no is no. With the simplicity, but not the naivete of the child. As the book of James says, being “Doers of the Word, and not hearers only”, not out of a slavish, legalistic obedience, as if we could justify ourselves by our own merits, but with a love that is always ready with its Marian Yes, “Let it be done to me according to your word”.

“You have heard that it was said… But I say to you”.