6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
From: Matthew 5:17-37
Jesus and His Teaching, the Fulfillment of the Law
(Jesus said to His disciples,)  "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I say to you, till Heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven."
 "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
 "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.'  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first to be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison;  truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
 "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'  But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
 "Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.'  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by Heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let what you say be simply, 'yes' or 'no'; anything more than this comes from evil."
17-19. In this passage Jesus stresses the perennial value of the Old Testament. It is the word of God; because it has a divine authority it deserves total respect. The Old Law enjoined precepts of a moral, legal and liturgical type. Its moral precepts still hold good in the New Testament because they are for the most part specific divine-positive promulgations of the natural law. However, our Lord gives them greater weight and meaning. But the legal and liturgical precepts of the Old Law were laid down by God for a specific stage in salvation history, that is, up to the coming of Christ; Christians are not obliged to observe them (cf. "Summa Theologiae", I-II, q. 108, a. 3 ad 3).
The law promulgated through Moses and explained by the prophets was God's gift to His people, a kind of anticipation of the definitive Law which the Christ or Messiah would lay down. Thus, as the Council of Trent defined, Jesus not only "was given to men as a redeemer in whom they are to trust, but also as a lawgiver whom they are to obey" ("De Iustificatione", can. 21).
20. "Righteousness": see the note on Matthew 5:6 (see below). This verse clarifies the meaning of the preceding verses. The scribes and Pharisees had distorted the spirit of the Law, putting the whole emphasis on its external, ritual observance. For them exact and hyper-detailed but external fulfillment of the precepts of the Law was a guarantee of a person's salvation: "If I fulfill this I am righteous, I am holy and God is duty bound to save me." For someone with this approach to sanctification it is really not God who saves: man saves himself through external works of the Law. That this approach is quite mistaken is obvious from what Christ says here; in effect what He is saying is: to enter the Kingdom of God the notion of righteousness or salvation developed by the scribes and Pharisees must be rejected. In other words, justification or sanctification is a grace from God; man's role is one of cooperating with that grace by being faithful to it. Elsewhere Jesus gives the same teaching in an even clearer way (cf. Luke 18: 9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector). It was also the origin of one of St. Paul's great battles with the "Judaizers" (see Galatians 3 and Romans 25).
21. Verses 21-26 gives us a concrete example of the way that Jesus Christ brought the Law of Moses to its fulfillment, by explaining the deeper meaning of the commandments of that Law.
22. By speaking in the first person ("but I say to you") Jesus shows that His authority is above that of Moses and the prophets; that is to say, He has divine authority. No mere man could claim such authority.
"Insults": practically all translations of this passage transcribe the original Aramaic word, "raca" (cf. RSV note below). It is not an easy word to translate. It means "foolish, stupid, crazy". The Jews used it to indicate utter contempt; often, instead of verbal abuse they would show their feelings by spitting on the ground.
"Fool" translates an ever stronger term of abuse than "raca" -- implying that a person has lost all moral and religious sense, to the point of apostasy.
In this passage our Lord points to three faults which we commit against charity, moving from internal irritation to showing total contempt. St. Augustine comments that three degrees of faults and punishments are to be noted. The first is the fault of feeling angry; to this corresponds the punishment of "judgment". The second is that of passing an insulting remark, which merits the punishment of "the council". The third arises when anger quite blinds us: this is punished by "the hell of fire" (cf. "De Serm. Dom. in Monte", II, 9).
"The hell of fire": literally, "Gehenna of fire", meaning, in the Jewish language of the time, eternal punishment.
This shows the gravity of external sins against charity--gossip, backbiting, calumny, etc. However, we should remember that these sins stem from the heart; our Lord focuses our attention, first, on internal sins--resentment, hatred, etc.-- to make us realize that that is where the root lies and that it is important to nip anger in the bud.
23-24. Here our Lord deals with certain Jewish practices of His time, and in doing so gives us perennial moral teaching of the highest order. Christians, of course, do not follow these Jewish ritual practices; to keep our Lord's commandment we have ways and means given us by Christ Himself. Specifically, in the New and definitive Covenant founded by Christ, being reconciled involves going to the Sacrament of Penance. In this Sacrament the faithful "obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against Him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins"("Lumen Gentium", 11).
In the New Testament, the greatest of all offerings is the Eucharist. Although one has a duty to go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, an essential condition before receiving Holy Communion is that one be in the state of grace.
It is not our Lord's intention here to give love of neighbor priority over love of God. There is an order of charity: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the great and first commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38). Love of one's neighbor, which is the second commandment in order of importance (cf. Matthew 22:39), derives its meaning from the first. Brotherhood without parenthood is inconceivable. An offense against charity is, above all, an offense against God.
[The note on Matthew 5:6 states:
6. The notion of righteousness (or justice) in Holy Scripture is an essentially religious one (cf. notes on Matthew 1:19 and 3:15; Romans 1:17; 1:18-32; 3:21-22 and 24). A righteous person is one who sincerely strives to do the Will of God, which is discovered in the commandments, in one's duties of state in life and through one's life of prayer. Thus, righteousness, in the language of the Bible, is the same as what nowadays is usually called "holiness" (1 John 2:29; 3:7-10; Revelations 22:11; Genesis 15:6; Deuteronomy 9:4).]
27-30. This refers to a sinful glance at any woman, be she married or not. Our Lord fills out the precepts of the Old Law, where only adultery and the coveting of one's neighbor's wife were considered sinful.
"Lustfully": feeling is one thing, consenting another. Consent presupposes that one realizes the evil of these actions (looking, imagining, having impure thoughts) and freely engages in them.
Prohibition of vices always implies a positive aspect--the contrary virtue. Holy purity, like every other virtue, is something eminently positive; it derives from the First Commandment and is also directed to it: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). "Purity is a consequence of the love that prompts us to commit to Christ our soul and body, our faculties and senses. It is not something negative; it is a joyful affirmation" (St. J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 5). This virtue demands that we use all the resources available to us, to the point of heroism if necessary.
"Right eye", "right hand", refers to whatever we value most. Our Lord lays it on the line and is not exaggerating. He obviously does not mean that we should physically mutilate ourselves, but that we should fight hard without making any concessions, being ready to sacrifice anything which clearly could put us in the way of offending God. Jesus' graphic words particularly warn us about one of the most common occasions of sin, reminding us of how careful we need to be guarding our sight. King David, by indulging his curiosity, went on to commit adultery and crime. He later wept over his sins and led a holy life in the presence of God (cf. 2 Samuel 11 and 12).
"The eyes! Through them many iniquities enter the soul. So many experiences like David's!--If you guard your sight you will have assured the guard of your heart: (St. J. Escriva, "The Way", 183).
Among the ascetical methods of protecting the virtue of holy purity are: frequent Confession and Communion; devotion to our Lady; a spirit of prayer and mortification; guarding of the senses; flight from occasions of sin; and striving to avoid idleness by always being engaged in doing useful things. There are two further means which are particularly relevant today: "Decorum and modesty are younger brothers of purity" (St. J. Escriva, "The Way", 128). Decorum and modesty are a sign of good taste, of respect for others and of human and Christian dignity. To act in accord with this teaching of our Lord, the Christian has to row against the current in a paganized environment and bring his influence for good to bear on it.
"There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast. And that crusade is a matter for you" (St. J. Escriva, "The Way", 121).
31-32. The Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24:1), which was laid down in ancient times, had tolerated divorce due to the hardness of heart of the early Hebrews. But it had not specified clearly the grounds on which divorce might be obtained. The rabbis worked out different sorts of interpretations, depending on which school they belonged to -- solutions ranging from very lax to quite rigid. In all cases, only husband could repudiate wife, not vice-versa. A woman's inferior position was eased somewhat by the device of a written document whereby the husband freed the repudiated woman to marry again if she wished. Against these rabbinical interpretations, Jesus re-establishes the original indissolubility of marriage as God instituted it (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 1: 31; 1 Corinthians 7:10).
[The RSVCE carries a note which reads "unchastity": The Greek word used here appears to refer to marriages which were not legally marriages, because they were within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity (Leviticus 18:6-16) or contracted with a Gentile. The phrase "except on the ground of unchastity" does not occur in the parallel passage in Luke 16:18. See also Matthew 19:9 (Mark 10: 1112), and especially 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, which shows that the prohibition is unconditional.] The phrase, "except on the ground of unchastity", should not be taken as indicating an exception to the principle of absolute indissolubility of marriage which Jesus has just re-established. It is almost certain that the phrase refers to unions accepted as marriage among some pagan people, but prohibited as incestuous in the Mosaic Law (cf. Leviticus 18) and in rabbinical tradition. The reference, then, is to unions radically invalid because of some impediment. When persons in this position were converted to the True Faith, it was not that their union could be dissolved; it was declared that they had never in fact been joined in true marriage. Therefore, this phrase does not do against the indissolubility of marriage, but rather reaffirms it.
On the basis of Jesus' teaching and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has ruled that in the specially grave case of adultery it is permissible for a married couple to separate, but without the marriage bond being dissolved; therefore, neither party may contract a new marriage.
The indissolubility of marriage was unhesitatingly taught by the Church from the very beginning; she demanded practical and legal recognition of this doctrine, expounded with full authority by Jesus (Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16: 18) and by the Apostles (1 Corinthians 6:16; 7:10-11; 39; Romans 7:2-3; Ephesians 5:31f).
Here, for example, are just a few texts from the Magisterium on this subject: "Three blessings are ascribed to matrimony [...]. The third is the indissolubility of matrimony -- indissoluble because it signifies the indivisible union of Christ with the Church. Although a separation from bed may be permitted by reason of marital infidelity, nevertheless it is not permitted to contract another matrimony since the bond of a marriage lawfully contracted is perpetual" (Council of Florence, "Pro Armeniis").
33-37. The Law of Moses absolutely prohibited perjury or violation of oaths (Exodus 20:7; Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 23:22). In Christ's time, the making of sworn statements was so frequent and the casuistry surrounding them so intricate that the practice was being grossly abused. Some rabbinical documents of the time show that oaths were taken for quite unimportant reasons. Parallel to this abuse of oath-taking there arose no less ridiculous abuses to justify non-fulfillment of oaths. All this meant great disrespect for the name of God. However, we do know from Sacred Scripture that oath-taking is lawful and good in certain circumstances: "If you swear, 'As the Lord lives', in truth, in justice, and in uprightness, then nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him shall they glory (Jeremiah 4:2).
Jesus here lays down the criterion which His disciples must apply in this connection. It is based on re-establishing, among married people, mutual trust, nobility and sincerity. The devil is "the father of lies" (John 8:44). Therefore, Christ's Church must teach that human relationships cannot be based on deceit and insincerity. God is truth, and the children of the Kingdom must, therefore, base mutual relationships on truth. Jesus concludes by praising sincerity. Throughout His teaching He identifies hypocrisy as one of the main vices to be combatted (cf., e.g., Matthew 23:13-32), and sincerity as one of the finest virtues (cf. John 1:47).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and by Scepter Publishers in the United States. We encourage readers to purchase The Navarre Bible for personal study.