I HAVE COME NOT TO ABOLISH THEM BUT TO FULFIL THEM
(A biblical reflection on the 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR A], 16 February 2020)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:17-37
First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20; Psalms: Psalm 119:1-5,17-18,33-34; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
The Scripture Text
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or “No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:17-37 RSV)
The Pharisees, one of the main religious groups in Jesus’ day, were known for their strict observance of biblical laws. In order to insure they wouldn’t accidentally break one of the laws God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Pharisees made up the oral traditions, a collection of laws that went beyond the God-given laws by explaining what they meant. For instance, the Bible contains the command to keep holy the Sabbath but doesn’t spell out what this means. The oral traditions filled in the gap and said we should understand this as strictly forbidding such things as lighting a candle on the Sabbath or walking more than a certain distance. The other biblical laws were dealt with in a similar manner.
The Pharisees believed their oral traditions were just as important as the laws of Moses got from God and to break one of them was as serious as breaking the law itself. Therefore, whoever broke either a divine law or one of the oral traditions was a sinner.
Jesus objected to the oral traditions because they became more important than human beings. For instance, observing the oral traditions was sometimes an excuse for not assisting someone in need on the Sabbath, even if failing to help meant the person suffered needlessly. Jesus acknowledged there were circumstances when the oral traditions not only could be but should be ignored. Because of this, His enemies often accused Him of ignoring the Jewish law. Jesus answers this accusation in today’s Gospel.
The law said not to commit murder but Jesus said we should not even get angry. The law said not to commit adultery but Jesus commanded His followers not even to look lustfully at another person. The law permitted divorce but Jesus didn’t. The law said not to take a false oath but Jesus said not to swear at all. Thus, today’s Gospel makes it clear that the charge that Jesus ignored the Jewish laws was false. Instead, Jesus consistently went beyond the demands of the law.
It isn’t easy to love someone who always makes you angry but that is what Jesus demands of us in today’s Gospel. Pray this week for someone with whom you do not get along. Think of some specific ways you can love that person.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 56-57.)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I commit my life to You. By Your Spirit, drive out the darkness in my heart so that I may always act according to the beauty and perfection that You have revealed in Your Son Jesus. Amen.
Jakarta, 14 February 2020
A Christian Pilgrim