The Perfection of Love

Scripture Reading

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment;
and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, 
You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife –  unless the marriage is unlawful – 
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.

But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

(Matthew 15:17-37)


Scripture Study

5:17 the law and the prophets: A shorthand expression for the entire OT. to fulfil them: Jesus completely fulfilled the Mosaic Law and OT prophecies (1:23; 2:6, 15; 4:15–16; Lk 24:44–47). The Greek word translated fulfil means “to make complete”. The New Covenant thus includes and concludes the Old Covenant; it both perfects it and transforms it. While sacrificial laws of the OT expired with the sacrifice of Jesus, the moral Law (Ten Commandments, etc.) was retained and refined (5:21, 27, 43; 19:17). In the Christian life, the power of God’s Spirit is necessary if we are to obey the Law and grow in holiness (cf. Rom 8:4; CCC 577–81, 1967).

5:18 an iota: Corresponds to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet (yod). a dot: Tiny extensions that distinguish similar-looking Hebrew letters from one another.

5:20 your righteousness: Jesus inaugurates a new and climactic phase in salvation history. He introduces a New Covenant standard of righteousness that surpasses the real, but insufficient, righteousness of the Old Covenant (cf. Deut 6:25; Is 48:18). The Old Covenant governed the temporal affairs of the earthly kingdom of Israel. The Mosaic Law (especially Deuteronomy) was designed to establish and maintain Israel as a nation-state in the land of Canaan. Its laws regulated public behavior to maintain civil order; it thus erected an outward standard of righteousness that defined God’s people as a nation. Jesus invites the scribes and Pharisees to recognize the Mosaic Law as God’s temporary arrangement for Israel (cf. Mt 19:8). It was a means of drawing them closer to God by separating them from the sins of the Gentiles (Lev 15:31; 20:26). Eventually, the Israelites expected a day when God would write his Law on their hearts (Jer 31:31–34; cf. Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:25–27). Christ’s New Covenant signals the dawning of this great day when he perfects the moral laws of the Old Covenant and brings that covenant’s temporary and national phase to a close. He implements a new level of covenant righteousness that stretches beyond the boundaries of the Old Law in two directions. (1) Outwardly, the scope of the New Covenant is wider than the one nation of Israel; it encompasses an international kingdom in the Church. All nations can now share in God’s blessing and become his covenant people. (2) Inwardly, the New Covenant penetrates to the heart; it reaches within to govern personal and private life by a maximal standard of holiness. As the Old Covenant formed virtuous citizens in Israel, so the New Covenant generates saints in the Church (CCC 1963–68). See also word study: Righteousness at Mt 3.

5:21–48 Sometimes called the “Six Antitheses”. Jesus acts with divine authority to perfect and deepen the moral codes of the Mosaic Law (cf. 7:29). Each antithesis follows a similar format: Jesus cites the Old Law, saying, you have heard that it was said (5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43), and responds with the refrain, But I say to you (5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). The pattern underscores Jesus’ authority as a new Moses and the lawgiver of the New Covenant. See notes on Mt 2:16 and 17:5.

5:21 You shall not kill: Jesus reaffirms that murder is unlawful (Ex 20:13; Deut 5:17) but introduces a new dimension to the civil law. Not only acts of murder but even personal anger (5:22) and private slander (5:22) constitute a violation of the New Law. Degrees of personal guilt are illustrated (5:22) by an escalating movement from a local court verdict (“judgment”), to the Jewish Sanhedrin (“council”), to eternal punishment (“hell”). At each step, the judgment corresponds to the severity of the sin (CCC 2302).

5:22 You fool!: The Greek transliterates an Aramaic term that implies a lack of intelligence. It is an insult that means something like “empty head” or “numskull”. the hell of fire: The Greek expression (also in 5:29–30) denotes the Valley of Gehenna south of Jerusalem. It served as a large dump where garbage was burned continually. Jesus uses the image to illustrate the frightful reality of damnation (CCC 1034–35). See word study: Hell at Mk 9.

5:27 adultery: Like the Mosaic Law, Jesus forbids acts of adultery (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18). Yet he extends the prohibition to forbid even personal lust and interior thoughts of impurity. Looking and thinking “lustfully” (5:28) already violate the New Law, even if the exterior act of adultery is not committed (CCC 2380).

5:29 pluck it out: A figurative overstatement, not a literal command of self-mutilation. Jesus uses alarming images to underscore the severity of sexual sins (cf. 18:7–9); extreme measures are needed to avoid occasions of sin, the sins themselves, and the eternal punishment they lead to.

5:31 a certificate of divorce: Divorce and remarriage were permitted under the Old Covenant only because of Israel’s sinfulness (19:8; cf. Deut 24:1–4). In the New Covenant, remarriage leads to adultery (CCC 2382). except on the ground of unchastity: Matthew alone records this added “exception clause” (cf. 19:9). For the meaning of this clause, see topical essay: Jesus on Marriage and Divorce at Mt 19.

5:33 not swear falsely: Jesus forbids oath swearing for private purposes. Oaths are important, however, in the public sector for the good of society. Judges, doctors, soldiers, politicians, and other professionals swear oaths for public service. Oaths are also sworn to make or renew covenants (cf. Heb 6:13–18). In every context, God’s holy name is invoked to bring divine assistance (blessing) to the upright and divine punishment (curse) to those who violate their oaths. In Jesus’ day, the practice of oath swearing was sometimes mishandled; people would swear private oaths for personal advantage. By invoking something other than God’s name (heaven/earth/Jerusalem; 5:34–35), oaths were taken lightly or even disregarded (23:16–22). Jesus denounces this, teaching that truthfulness and integrity should govern private life. Matthew recounts three episodes where such illicit oaths are sworn for personal purposes (14:7; 26:72, 74; 27:25) (CCC 2153–54).[1]

Scripture Reflection

Today’s Gospel passage is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount. If we are to begin to understand Jesus’ staggering teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we have to keep ever in our minds the little tag line, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus is the Son of God, and his purpose is not primarily to construct a smooth-functioning human society; it is to establish the Kingdom of God, that is to say, a body formed by those who participate in him, who share his relationship to the Father. What is the Father of Jesus Christ like? The Father of Jesus Christ is love, right through. That’s all God is; that’s all he knows how to do. He is not like us: unstable, changing, moving from one attitude to another. No, God simply is love.

Why should you go beyond simply loving those who love you? Because that’s the way God operates: he loves the saints and he also loves the worst sinner in Hell. Now is that easy to do? Of course not. But that’s what Jesus call us to: be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV. 



[1] Curtis Mitch, “Introduction to the Gospels,” in The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 15–16.