Scripture Readings: Book of Sirach 15:15-20; Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 2:6-10; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 5:17-37

Christians believe, rooted in the words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, that Christ came into the world to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The expression “the Law and the Prophets” is not to be thought of, though, in the narrow sense of a “code of conduct,” or simply a list “dos and don’ts,” but something much deeper is implied. “The Law and the Prophets” refers for sure to what was revealed in the Old Testament, but needs to be understood as life-giving instructions and directions for a life in God. What we call “the Law,” the Hebrew word is “torah,” which implies much more than our notion of “keeping the law.”

The people of Israel believed that to prepare well for the coming Messiah, they needed to embrace willingly and readily all that God had revealed and taught by the mouths of various God-inspired holy men, especially Moses, called the “Law-giver.” The revealed Law which Moses and the prophets, such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and others, was nothing less than the expression of the divine will, and to accept it was a preparation for the completion of all that God intended for the well-being of his people.

As Christians we believe that Jesus was sent by the Father in Heaven to bring to completion the preparation for the Messiah to, and therefore Jesus spoke in terms of fulfilling, and not abolishing, what had gone before. The ministry of the Lord was the first step in establishing the new order, that is, God’s reign, perfectly fulfilled in the death and resurrection of the Redeemer. A new creation has been established by the saving deeds of the Lord, and we have inherited all that “God has prepared for those who love him,” as Saint Paul indicates in the second reading for Mass this Sunday.

Today’s Gospel passage, from the Sermon on the Mount, contains some wonderful contrasts that form an essential part of embracing the Kingdom of God, which requires an interior attitude, more than mere outward observance.

Jesus describes the basic and accepted commands in Jewish Law, specifically: you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not divorce, nor take false oaths. These were important commands for God’s people to observe, but Jesus indicates that there is something more going on here.

In Jesus’ teaching, more than the “bare minimum” is required. In other words, avoiding murder is commanded, but coupled to that is unconditional reconciliation with all, hence, a more inclusive notion of “not murdering” is expounded by the Lord.

In the matter “do not commit adultery, Jesus stresses that the larger requirement is a striving for absolute purity, that is, never using others for personal gratification, but genuinely loving all.

Regarding divorce, the deeper meaning is unbroken unity in all our relationships.

Not taking false oaths is related to the larger matter of sincerity in all that we say and do.

The teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which should be shaping our lives each day, is the embodiment of God’s will and the path into God’s Kingdom. We are all challenged by the words of Ben Sirach, in the first reading at Mass this Sunday: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments of God; it is loyalty to God’s will.”

God positively helps us to choose the good, by supernatural grace at work in our lives, strengthening us in time of temptation. Perhaps we often answer on the computer, “I am not a robot,” and that is certainly the case, as we have been loved into being by God and endowed with free will. Only humans have this great gift from God! May we use it well.

With all of that in mind, the exhortation running throughout the Bible, that we must always and everywhere choose life, is something that should never be far from us. Added to that is the assuring words of the psalmist: “With God we shall do bravely” (Psalm 108:13).

Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB