Mt  5.17-37                      Ecc 15.16-21            1Cor 2.6-10

From a short and sharp reflection on the images of salt and light, we now get a jam-packed Gospel with all sorts of themes, based on the common ground of Jesus’ new teaching, not doing away with the old Law, but giving it a new vision, expanding its scope beyond the letter to a depth of sincerity of heart. (There was a shorter option, but it leaves out too much of the good stuff!)

Last Wednesday, I had my first encounter with students, staff and some parents at OLN, celebrating Eucharist with over 300, with a great spirit and good singing too.  That was a warmup for Thursday, where I celebrated Eucharist with over 1,000 students and staff at St Columba’s College.  Once again, there was a positive and friendly vibe, as we reflected on the Jesus’ message, and his call to be faithful disciples.  On both occasions, the focus was on living and sharing the love Jesus proclaims, in word and action, working together.  We know it sounds simple and positive, but we also know, human nature being what it is, it is in fact, often not so straightforward!

So here we are now, reflecting on the further expansion of Jesus’ teaching on living the Christian life.

We continue the Sermon on the Mount, with Matthew focussed on Christological themes, Jesus’ teaching at the heart of Christian faith and life. Scripture scholar Raymond Brown’s summation is of  “The ethics of Jesus as the new lawgiver” .  There is continuity here with the Old Testament Law, the Jewish Torah, and the Prophets, but over the centuries, by the time of Jesus, the rabbis had developed 613 laws, starting with the Ten Commandments, so complexity and detail had increased massively in time, growing like Topsy!

As a supposed canon lawyer, I often say that the final canon of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, with its 1752 canons or rules, if you like, is the most important, as it emphasizes the good of the people as the primary purpose of law, and speaks of the need for equity, which I translate as a ‘fair go’ for all.  Law is not meant to be an oppressive burden on people, increasing the demands on them and being used as a means of saying no, and refusing permission to change or move forward in their lives. There need to be good reasons for applying the law and providing consideration for the human situation in which we find ourselves.  Isn’t this why we are given free will and informed consciences to make decisions for ourselves?

This section of Jesus’ teaching which we hear today is the closest he gets to prescriptive law in any detail, but, at the same time, he ends up with the priorities being love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. Yes, we need structures and organization for order, celebrations of sacraments and worship, but the priority must always be the good of the person.

Jesus goes deeper here, starting with a direct critique of the scribes and Pharisees, as he sees through their hypocrisy of failing to practise what they preach, and we know they don’t like it at all.  From  their positions of power and prestige, many of them think they can get away with knowing the law, and imposing it on others, along with penalties, without getting too tangled in observance themselves, as if they were above it all!

From prohibition of murder, an obvious evil, Jesus advocates toning down one’s anger and bitterness, so that friendly resolution of hurts and differences is encouraged.  There is also a common sense factor here in conflict resolution, that it is preferable to sort out personal differences outside court, rather than upping the ante and having to pay the lawyers and court costs!  Then he moves on to adultery, where he warns against lustful thoughts and intentions, but, in reality, the reminder is not to go down the path of giving in to temptation, which can’t be avoided in the human scheme of things, in all of our lives!  Nor should to take this all literally, with tearing out an eye or chopping off a right hand.  At least we have two eyes and two hands, but self-mutilation is not to be advised in any circumstances!!

With the warning against divorce, Jesus sets an ideal, but that’s not to deny the human reality of its necessity at times.  As an ecclesiastical judge, having concluded affirmative well over 3,000 annulments over the last 35 years or so, thus setting people free to get on with their lives in the Church, and in new hopefully loving and life-giving relationships.  So, I can speak from experience that there is a spiritual right to freedom from impossible situations which cannot be resolved, and canon law fortunately provides for this, as well as an informed conscience.

And, finally, Jesus calls for us to speak the truth, without fear or favour, where we say what we mean and we mean what we say, just as Dr Seuss’s Horton the Elephant did, when he took care of nurturing and ultimately miraculously hatching Mayzie the Lazy Bird’s original egg, with his saying “An elephant is faithful, 100%!”  In this age of fake truth and twisted lies, we are reminded that Yes should mean Yes, and No should mean no!  If we commit to speaking the truth, based on facts, then there’s no need to take oaths, although it’s common practice in the courts and our society in general, and perjury is seen as a serious wrong.

Jesus therefore sets a high standards for Christians to follow if we are to be sincere and committed to living our faith according to his teachings. And so on we go, still trying,  sometimes very trying!

 john hannon                                                                                    12th  February  2023

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