In the first phase of today’s gospel, Jesus reiterates this truth, “Do not think that I have come to annul the law and the prophets. I have not come to annul them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
If he feels the need to clarify his position, it means that someone had the impression that he, through his behaviour and his own words, is demolishing the same beliefs, expectations and hopes of Israel, based on sacred texts.
Jesus was respectful of the laws and institutions of his people. However, he interpreted them in an original way. His point of reference was not the letter of the precept, but the good of the person. For the love of persons, he did not hesitate to break even the Sabbath.
Here’s how he clarifies his position and choices: the promises made by God—he explains—will all come true, not even one of them will fall.
Before the world ends, what was written will be fulfilled, but in an unexpected way and the surprise will be so great that even the pious, devout, sincere people, like John the Baptist, will run the risk of seeing their faith waver and remain shocked (Matthew 11:6).
The statutes referred to here are not from the old law, but the beatitudes. These beatitudes are the new proposal, the new justice that leads to fulfillment and brings to perfection the old one, that which the scribes and Pharisees—admittedly—practiced in an exemplary manner.
The gospel puts forward six examples with a new interpretation of the old law of which we shall discuss only one here. Do not kill! (vv.21-26)
Human life is sacred and inviolable from the moment it blooms until, of course, it ends. This was already clear in the ancient Torah, but to enter into the kingdom of heaven, it is necessary to understand that not killing involves much more. There are other subtle, sophisticated, covert and disguised ways to kill.
If there were X-rays capable of detecting the cemetery hidden in our hearts we would be startled. Among the dead we would find those to whom we have sworn not to speak to, those to whom we have denied forgiveness, those we have continued to accuse of mistakes, those whose good name we have destroyed by gossip or slander, those whom we have deprived of love and the joy of living.
Murder always starts from the heart. You cannot hate a person and continue to feel at peace. This would be an unjust and cruel heart—Jesus teaches—that must be disarmed.
Those whom we demonise are our brothers and sisters. Three times Jesus repeats this word (vv.22-24), as an antidote to heal the heart of the poison of hatred, kept alive and increased by slanderous words. Then he addresses the root of the conflict; he introduces the theme of reconciliation.
It appeals, first of all, to need and importance (vv.23-24). The cue is taken from a religious practice of Israel. Before entering the temple to offer sacrifice, it was necessary to undergo a painstaking purification.
Jesus declares that it is not the body that needs to be pure, but the heart. Reconciliation with a brother or sister replaces all the rites of purification.
There is a video available by Father Fernando Armellini with a commentary for today’s gospel at: http://www.bibleclaret.org/videos
• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ