To read the texts click on the texts:Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37
While the commandments in the Old Testament are ten in number, these are summarised by Jesus into two which actually is one. This commandment is to love neighbour and in neighbour, one loves God. When Jesus speaks in the Gospel text of today as having come to fulfil the law, he means that he has come to take the law to a higher level which is the level of interiorization. This is to state that one follows the law not out of compulsion or fear, but from the heart. This means that Jesus will go beyond a purely legal interpretation to a broader perspective. He will remove the focus from the mere external and concentrate on the internal. The focus will be more on the attitude than merely on the action.
The next verses are about how the righteousness of the disciples of Jesus must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. In the six antitheses (5:21-48) that follow.
Each of the six begins with what was said of old and what Jesus is now saying. The first of the six (5:21-26) is about the Law’s prohibition of murder (Exodus 20:13; Deut 5:18). After stating the law and adding a supplementary, the Matthean Jesus then radicalises the law and calls for an interiorization of it (5:22). The call seems to be to submit one’s thoughts about other people, as well as the words they give rise to, to God’s penetrating judgement. It is a call to realise that God wills not only that human beings not kill each other but also that there be no hostility between human beings. The next verses (5:23-26) are an application of what Jesus says. Reconciliation is even more important than offering worship and sacrifice. The disciples are called to work for reconciliation in the light of the eschatological judgement toward.
In the second (5:27-30) Jesus reaffirms the prohibition against adultery (Exodus 20:14), but goes beyond i.e. to the intention of the heart. In the third (5:31-32) which is related to divorce, Jesus simply prohibits it.
The fourth of the six antitheses is completely a Matthean composition. There is no precedence for the absolute prohibition of oaths in Judaism. Rather, an oath invoked God to guarantee the truth of what was being sworn or promised, or to punish the one taking the oath if he was not faithful to his word. The Matthean Jesus here rules out oaths completely. He rejects not only false and unnecessary oaths, but also any attempt to bolster one’s statement claim to truth beyond the bare statement of it. It is a demand for truthfulness in everything that one says.
Thus Jesus reiterates and states even more emphatically what Ben Sirach had written centuries before namely that one chooses to obey the commandments of God as a matter of one’s own free choice. To choose obedience is to choose life. God will respect the free choice of every individual.
In order to do this we require wisdom, which is a gift from God. It is God’s Spirit which is given freely which helps us choose always what is right and good.
While laws, rules and regulations are necessary and help towards order, it is also possible that they can become ends in themselves and not as they are meant to be, means to an end. We might follow in some cases the letter of the law, but miss out on its spirit. We might even follow the rule or law only because we are afraid of getting caught and punished and not because we are convinced of it.
There is sometimes in our understanding of Christianity too much emphasis on what constitutes and does not constitute sin, and on how far we can go before we commit sin. The real question we must ask is how far we must go in love.