On these final two Sundays before we begin our Lenten journey, we find ourselves listening to some challenging words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Several times, we will hear Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you” (Mt 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44).
Upon a first reading of each of these passages, we could easily believe that Jesus is intending to change or override the Law as prescribed in the Old Testament. However, this interpretation would be largely inaccurate particularly related to what Jesus instructs us just a few verses earlier. He says, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill … Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of the 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” (5:17, 19). Therefore, as we ponder Jesus’ words, we are encouraged to remember that Jesus’ intention is not to change the Law, but to fine-tune it so that the original intent is more closely observed and we may continue to make progress along our path toward holiness.
Over these next two Sundays, Jesus invites his disciples — the original ones and us — to deepen our understanding of what it means to kill; to commit adultery; to divorce; to mean what we say; to end the cycle of violence and to love completely (5:21-48).
Thankfully, most of us are not guilty of murder; but Jesus instructs us to consider how name-calling, unresolved anger and grievances with others can kill the connections with those whom we are called into relationship.
Jesus expands the sin of adultery to include lustful glances that lead us to objectify the women and men around us. Although, the Old Testament permitted divorce in certain circumstances, Jesus further restricts this practice to only “unlawful” marriages.
In an effort to be truthful in all we say and do, Jesus calls us to “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’” (5:37). In order to deepen the effectiveness of the “eye for an eye” maxim of the Old Testament; Jesus calls us to creatively resist violence without injuring the other.
In his final instruction of this section, Jesus calls us to expand our love of neighbor to our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus concludes all of this instruction with, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). I’m not there yet; but, it is good to be reminded as we prepare our hearts and minds for this year’s Lenten journey. Christ is always calling us to turn toward him and accept a life of ongoing conversion; a life rooted in our universal call to holiness — to know, love and serve him in this life and be with him forever in the next.
Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned Master of Divinity and Theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.