Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into 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 with him.
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.”
Following Christ’s elucidation of the law, his disciples must pursue a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. In terms of external obedience to the law’s regulations, the scribes and Pharisees were known as model followers of the Torah. But Jesus’ teaching calls for “a radical interiorization, a total obedience to God, a complete self-giving to neighbor, that carries the ethical thrust of the law to its God-willed conclusion.” Thus the standard of righteousness demanded of disciples goes beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees. It requires much more than external conformity to the law’s regulations. Jesus calls his followers to wholehearted trust and obedience toward the heavenly Father that radiates God’s love to the world.
In the first example, Jesus does not want us merely to avoid killing one another; he calls us to remove the attitudes and actions that lead to killing and, indeed, every obstacle to unconditional love. He quotes the fifth commandment You shall not kill (Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17 LXX), which prohibited murder, not capital punishment or killing in war (Exod 21:12–17; Num 31:3–8). But Jesus goes beyond the letter of the law, calling people to avoid even the kind of anger and critical speech that seeks to wound another person and thus destroys relationships. Whoever is angry with his brother or publicly dishonors him by calling him Raqa (meaning imbecile or idiot) or You fool will face severe punishment. The next two illustrations underscore the importance of not letting anger persist. Jesus addresses the person who is about to offer sacrifice but remembers an unresolved problem in a personal relationship. Jesus says, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother. Spoken in Galilee, this dramatic picture might suggest a Galilean leaving his animal at the altar and going all the way back to his home to be reconciled with his brother before returning to complete the sacrifice. This hyperbole would accentuate the urgency to resolve any tensions in a relationship rather than letting them fester.
With his next illustration, Jesus challenges his disciples to Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. If you succeed in reaching an out-of-court settlement, Jesus suggests, you avoid the risk that the divine judge will render judgment against you. The RSV translates the word for “settle” as “make friends.” Responding to your accuser with anger only increases hostility, but good will and a desire to be reconciled helps restore friendship. The dramatic image of being thrown into prison points to the consequence of not seeking reconciliation with one’s opponents (18:23–25).
Friends, our Gospel for today is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has established himself symbolically as the new Moses, giving a law upon a mountain. His “you have heard it said, but I say…” has revealed that he has authority even over the Torah. The law is not being abrogated; it is being intensified.
The law was always meant to bring humanity into line with divinity. In the beginning, this alignment was at a fairly basic level. But now that the definitive Moses has appeared, the alignment is becoming absolute, radical, complete.
And so, “You have heard 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.” Killing is an action, but that action is rooted in a more fundamental dysfunction: a hateful attitude, a disordered soul, a basic misperception of reality. To be like God utterly, we have to eliminate, obviously, cruel and hateful actions, but we have to go deeper, eliminating cruel and hateful thoughts and attitudes, for God is love, right through.
– Bishop Robert Barron
May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.