Today’s Gospel passage continues on from last week’s. We are still listening to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is sitting and teaching on a mountainside. He is Jewish and is talking about the things of God, so he cannot avoid talking about the Law. The relationship between God and the Children of Israel is expressed by the Covenant given to Israel by God through Moses on Mount Sinai. The Law is the living out and fulfilment of the covenant.
Jesus has come to fulfil, to complete the Law. In him the purpose of the Law, that is bringing men to God, is fulfilled. As we will see at the Passion, the sacrifices of the Covenant worshipare completed and summed up in Jesus’ act of worship on the Cross. At this Mass and at every Mass we join ourselves to this great act of sacrifice and of worship.
The law not only regulates how one should worship God, but also the relationships between people. How do we keep every dot and stroke of the law? Well, Jesus tells us it is not to be like the scribes’ and Pharisees’ methods of keeping the law. It has to be more than a careful observance of the exact precepts of the Law. We have to go deeper into the Law.
Jesus takes several examples of what the Law says and then takes the Law further and deeper. So we have this repetition of the phrase You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors –and then the provision of the Law. And now comes the phrase, But I say to you. Now Jesus is sitting on a mountain and talking about the law and so is in a way acting like Moses. But there is a difference. Moses heard the Law on Sinai and passed it on to the people. It was not his Law. When Jesus comments on the Law he does not take Moses as an authority, but says But I say to you. He is teaching on his own authority. There is implicit in his words, in the structure of his teaching, a claim to be something more than Moses.
After Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, the first sin we hear of is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. So the first command Jesus talks of is the prohibition of murder. It is not just a matter of avoiding actual murder, hard as that may be at times, but of striking at the roots of murder in anger and strife. Cain was angry with Abel because the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not his own. So the references to sacrifice and altar come into Jesus’ teaching. The efficacy of our worship of God depends on our relationship with our brothers – and we are all children of Adam and Eve is mother of all the living.
And so Jesus goes through further commandments and teaches against adultery in its roots as lust, and against divorce and against oaths. Next week the list will continue with the rejection of an eye for an eye and with the injunction to love our enemies. All these things are about relationship with other people.
We humans tend to be self-centred and we tend to consider other people only insofar as they are useful to us. But God has made each one of us and each of us is important to him. While we may consider ourselves as the centre of our own universe, other people are just as important to God as we are. If we wish to approach God, to seek him, to join ourselves to him – and he is the one who holds us in existence – then we must look on other people as God looks on them. We must give care and attention to the things that hold us together with other people. We must live our lives so that what we say to any others will reflect the truth of who we are. And in this way we will fulfil the Law.