Green Room

Sunday reflection: Matthew 5:17-37

posted at 10:01 am on February 16, 2014 by

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular Green Room feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection only represents my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion.

Today’s gospel reading is Matthew 5:17-37:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you,  whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;  and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife -  unless the marriage is unlawful - causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”

Two days ago, many of us celebrated Valentine’s Day with candy hearts, cards with hearts all over them, heart-shaped boxes, and so on. It’s a fun holiday, especially for candy makers, florists, and dentists one supposes, a holiday that celebrates the “sweethearts” of our lives and the heart as the center of romance and infatuation. This passage, though, deals with the heart in an entirely different way, and in more than one respect.

What, in Christian terms, is the “heart”? It is the place where the will intersects with the intellect, the seat of decision-making. This was the ancient understanding of the heart, and when the Law is written on it, it means that love dwells there — the love of God and the Holy Spirit, with our assent and cooperation. That cooperation is also a blend of will and intellect, and it aligns us not just with the letter of the Law but also its spirit of love. This love is caritas (and/or agape) rather than eros, however, and this is what Jesus instructs in this central teaching to Christianity.

Prior to this teaching, the understanding of the Mosaic law had fallen to a mere, rote, physical compliance with it. The law in that sense had become an end to itself, but the Mosaic law was intended to form the hearts of God’s people to His love, not just statutory compliance. Instead, the contemporary understanding then was that it was enough for a a man to avoid adultery, rather than put it out of his heart as an injury to God’s love for us. We could remain in furious anger with our brethren as long as we did not assault them, or worse. This is the Pharisaical error that Jesus will correct in both word and deed.

Jesus tells his disciples that his mission is to fulfill the Law, by impressing on them the need to form our hearts in the Law and in love of God and neighbor. The sin comes from the heart; sinful physical actions are a consequence of  that sin. Jesus stresses this in the hyperbolic suggestions to tear out one’s eye and cut off one’s hand rather than abide sin. Sin is a greater issue than physical disabilities, and sin goes beyond the physical – it starts in the heart, where the will and intellect join, and where sin rejects the caritas we are meant to show to God and our neighbors.

Our other readings today emphasize this aspect of the Law. In Sirach 15:15-20, the prophet warns that God judges the heart rather than act like a policeman: “He understands every man’s deed,” and not just sees the deeds. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 that the Christian church speaks “a wisdom to those who are mature,” a hidden wisdom “not of this age” but eternal. This wisdom “God has revealed to us through the spirit,” to the hearts of Christians who allow themselves to be formed by the Holy Spirit in love.

This is the difference between slavery and discipleship, between servants and true children of God. Slaves and servants follow rules; children in the image of God embrace His love, and the Law already written on their hearts.  Jesus sets the bar high for his disciples and all who would call themselves Christians — not just to follow checkboxes of rules and regulations, but to live their lives according to the Spirit and caritas, both externally and internally.

The heart, then, means much more than just the seat of infatuation and the manifestation of eros for Christians. It is the place where the Holy Spirit dwells, when we willingly and actively invite the Paraclete through prayer to form our hearts in the Law, rather than pay lip service to it through mere physical compliance. This understanding, especially when joined with the Beatitudes, provides the heart of Christian teaching.

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…thanks!…(that’s all)…Thanks!

KOOLAID2 on February 16, 2014 at 10:44 AM

It’s kind of interesting how one co-author of this site is an Atheist and the other gives sermons every Sunday.

SoulGlo on February 16, 2014 at 11:07 AM

It’s kind of interesting how one co-author of this site is an Atheist and the other gives sermons every Sunday.

SoulGlo on February 16, 2014 at 11:07 AM

I don’t think these rise to the level of sermons, but to your point, this is a demonstration of real diversity.

Ed Morrissey on February 16, 2014 at 11:10 AM

Thanks brother Ed…

OmahaConservative on February 16, 2014 at 11:12 AM

Christ makes the law stronger, more immediate… just as he makes Himself and the Father more accessible by his coming to live among us.

dpduq on February 16, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Do not take a false oath…Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.

Something our leaders should take to heart. STOP LYING TO US, POLS! PERIOD!

Pardon my caps.

xNavigator on February 16, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Thanks Ed!

txmomof6 on February 16, 2014 at 12:23 PM

As a stranger in a strange land, I must inform you that these French find it rather remarkable, considering this passage in which Jesus himself recommends one not swear, that we Americans seem to swear on the Bible every chance we get. By Jove.

Just sayin’.

maevio on February 16, 2014 at 12:43 PM

It’s kind of interesting how one co-author of this site is an Atheist and the other gives sermons every Sunday.

SoulGlo on February 16, 2014 at 11:07 AM

I don’t think these rise to the level of sermons, but to your point, this is a demonstration of real diversity.

Ed Morrissey on February 16, 2014 at 11:10 AM

But we need to get out our cocoons.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIrhABg0QgQ

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

miserere nobis.

have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

dona nobis pacem.

grant us peace.

davidk on February 16, 2014 at 1:36 PM

It’s kind of interesting how one co-author of this site is an Atheist and the other gives sermons every Sunday.

We don’t call it a sermon at Mass. We call it a homily, you bloody Protestant Heretic! :P

Conservative Mischief on February 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM

We don’t call it a sermon at Mass. We call it a homily, you bloody Protestant Heretic! :P

Conservative Mischief on February 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM

“I will not recant.”

davidk on February 16, 2014 at 2:13 PM

Jesus stresses this in the hyperbolic suggestions to tear out one’s eye and cut off one’s hand rather than abide sin.

You’re missing something important here if you think He is being merely hyperbolic. Jesus is not being hyperbolic here, rather He is teaching as a 1st century rabbi would have. He is being metaphoric; using Midrash, that is using physical figures to represent spiritual truths.

The eye has to do with sight; the hands have to do with activity. Notice, He doesn’t suggest cutting off both hands or cutting out both eyes, since that would render you completely sightless and completely unable to function. As previously noted, it is not the eye nor the hand that causes one to sin, so He must be referring to something other than what it appears.

Where else in Scripture are the hands and eyes referred to in the same context? 1 Corinthians 12, referring to them as metaphors for members of the church, that is, us. WE , or rather, some individuals WITHIN the “body” are b being referred to here.

What Jesus is saying is that even if our teachers or the seemingly more important members of the church are causing us to sin, or leading us astray, we should “cut them off”. Have nothing to do with them.

Even if it’s your priest, your bishop…or even…your Pope.

Cleombrotus on February 16, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Okay, since reading these posts the last four weeks I have been trying to understand the messages. From talking with my devout Catholic wife, who was stunned that after 23 years of marriage I showed any interest in this subject, I have a question. I think I sort of understand the concept of original sin from a talk we had yesterday, but how does that concept coexist with the purity of the heart?

If this is a dumb question just ignore as I struggle to understand what you guys are talking about.

HonestLib on February 16, 2014 at 6:26 PM

HonestLib on February 16, 2014 at 6:26 PM

This is emphatically NOT a “dumb question,” but an excellent topic. Original sin is the fallen state of human beings that gives us a predisposition to sin. Baptism gives us the grace to seek purity of heart…. However, this is a very complicated topic that can’t be effectively addressed in the comments section, or really even a blog post. I’d suggest reading either the Catechism in paragraphs 407-412, 2259, and 2448 perhaps as well.

Ed Morrissey on February 16, 2014 at 7:04 PM

It’s kind of interesting how one co-author of this site is an Atheist and the other gives sermons every Sunday.

SoulGlo on February 16, 2014 at 11:07 AM
.

I don’t think these rise to the level of sermons, but to your point, this is a demonstration of real diversity.

Ed Morrissey on February 16, 2014 at 11:10 AM

.
We don’t call it a sermon at Mass. We call it a homily, you bloody Protestant Heretic! :P

Conservative Mischief on February 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM
.

“I will not recant.”

davidk on February 16, 2014 at 2:13 PM

.
Just checkin’ in . . . okay, looks good … carry-on.

listens2glenn on February 16, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Thank you! I’m glad I found this. I enjoy it.

Annie21LA on February 16, 2014 at 7:15 PM

HonestLib on February 16, 2014 at 6:26 PM

Who has a pure heart?

Cleombrotus on February 16, 2014 at 8:09 PM

Who has a pure heart?

Cleombrotus on February 16, 2014 at 8:09 PM

As far as religion goes, I have no idea as I am a non-believer. But I will admit that as hard as I try to be the person I want to be it seems I stumble and fail more often than not. Hey, just being honest.

HonestLib on February 16, 2014 at 8:29 PM

Thanks Ed, you make my Sundays!
God bless,
Yours in Christ,
Michael.

Michael Harlin on February 16, 2014 at 8:55 PM

HonestLib on February 16, 2014 at 8:29 PM

No, I get that you’re being genuine. I was not being sarcastic but was addressing your question about the seeming inconsistency of the Bible’s take on original sin and the presumption that anyone, any human, that is, actually has a pure heart.

Even our most altruistic endeavors are loaded with self-regarding motivations.

Cleombrotus on February 16, 2014 at 9:09 PM

thanks again, Ed. For us Orthodox it was the parable of the Prodigal Son. this is a great way to spend a little time on Sunday evening.

deimos on February 16, 2014 at 9:20 PM

deimos on February 16, 2014 at 9:20 PM

One of my favorite passages, and so many lessons to take from it. How wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

Ed Morrissey on February 16, 2014 at 9:47 PM

To HonestLib and Cleombrotus -

Concerning original sin – I am just another finite human being and I don’t claim to fully understand everything about God, but this is how I’ve come to think of it.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God told them not to eat, they decided they knew better than God. Since then, every human being every day decides he/she knows better than God. The perfect image that God placed in our hearts is distorted … corrupted by our rebellion again Him. Some people, for some unknown reason, manage to erase that image and wind up eternally lost. But God is able somehow to preserve His image in many human hearts, though it is still clouded by our selfish desires.

While we live in this sinful world, we will often stumble into sin because that “Old Adam,” original sin, is still in us. When God’s Holy Spirit enters our hearts, He creates a “New Adam” who wants to do what God says we should do. We cannot make our own hearts pure. As the Psalmist says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Only God can make our hearts pure.

Christians struggle with their rebellious “Old Adam” as long as we live in this world, but we realize God knows infinitely more than we do and we no longer want to rebel against Him. When we do fall, we cling to the Cross upon which Christ purchased our salvation 2000 years ago. Because our debt was paid in full on that cross, we look forward to the perfect heaven He is preparing for us as a free gift.

I truly hope this helps.

wutzupdak on February 16, 2014 at 11:33 PM

Prior to this teaching, the understanding of the Mosaic law had fallen to a mere, rote, physical compliance with it. The law in that sense had become an end to itself, but the Mosaic law was intended to form the hearts of God’s people to His love, not just statutory compliance.

Amen. To quote St. Paul in Romans 2,

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Oops. Sorry, that’s Moses, from Deuteronomy 30; this is Romans 2:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

novakyu on February 16, 2014 at 11:58 PM

wutzupdak on February 16, 2014 at 11:33 PM

Agreed. That is the basic theory of salvation and the need for it. For a non-believer who may not either be familiar with it, or who does not accept the Genesis account, I appeal to historical reality – to the one constant in all of human history, and that is FLAW.

The story of human history is an account of, either, great examples of evil or great examples of efforts to overcome it, but evil is a constant in the affairs of mankind, and it’s origins and reality have to be accounted for.

The Bible’s account is the one that makes the most sense to the honest reader when taken in its entirety.

Cleombrotus on February 17, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Thanks, Ed.

Valentine’s Day is special in our house because my daughter and her new husband were both born on Valentine’s Day 26 years ago. They are the perfect sweetheart couple. God bless them and my son and his sweetheart of a new wife.

It was a beautiful weekend and I am very blessed.

Elisa on February 17, 2014 at 7:43 AM

wutzupdak on February 16, 2014 at 11:33 PM

One of the best explanations of original sin I ever heard. Thank you.

Elisa on February 17, 2014 at 7:44 AM

HonestLib on February 16, 2014 at 6:26 PM

Ed’s suggestion of reading the Catechism paragraphs 407-412, 2259, and 2448 is good advice.

The whole Catechism is online and excellent and easy to read and has lots of Scriptural footnotes on the bottom.

Here is the link:

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p7.htm

Elisa on February 17, 2014 at 7:49 AM

wutzupdak on February 16, 2014 at 11:33 PM

Cleombrotus on February 17, 2014 at 7:03 AM

I like both of these.

Ed Morrissey on February 17, 2014 at 8:21 AM

Nothing of the snake handler who was bitten, refus’d treatment, and died this past weekend?

antisense on February 17, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Thanks Ed and Elisha. Long explanations can get a little muttled. I tried to keep it short and clear. (Dad is a retired Lutheran Pastor and I don’t think I ever heard him explain it this way, so I had to kind of cogitate on it on my own, with God’s help, of course).

And Ed, Thank you very much for this regular segment on HotAir. Lots to think about!

wutzupdak on February 17, 2014 at 10:57 AM

Oh, and thank you Cleombrotus -
To me, it is the only real logical explanation for the mess this world is in.

wutzupdak on February 17, 2014 at 11:01 AM

Thanks Ed.

Our Deacon read the wrong Gospel (must have read the B rotation). So I’m glad you post this every Sunday. The priest did go on to address sin in his homily….mortal sin of not going to Mass.

tommer74 on February 17, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Ed:
I’m going to read and re-read your post a few times. I’m trying to reconnect with my Orthodox Christianity. Your messages help make sense of a sometimes confusing Biblical intent. Thank you.

PhillyCon on February 17, 2014 at 2:33 PM

juicyecumenism.com/2014/02/10/paul-alexander-dismissed-from-assemblies-of-god-clergy/

davidk on February 18, 2014 at 5:47 AM

Sung had been exposed to liberal theology and the social gospel through campus ministries. But Union Theological Seminary, under the leadership of president, Henry Sloane Coffin, uncle of anti-war activist and pastor of Riverside Church, William Sloane Coffin, and Professor Harry Emerson Fosdick, also a pastor of Riverside Church, was something else. Every tenet of Christianity was rationalized or dismissed, including Scriptural authority, the Virgin Birth, the bodily Resurrection of Christ, the existence of miracles, the existence of heaven and hell, and the reality of prayer.

Filled with joy for the restoration of his faith, Sung began preaching the Gospel on the seminary campus and throughout the city. “Wherever he went, whoever he met, his talk was Christ and His cleansing Blood,” says Tow. Sung told his former favorite professor, Dr. Fosdick, “You are of the devil. You made me lose my faith, and you are causing other young men to lose their faith.” Already alarmed by the new emotional and spiritual state of the young seminarian, Fosdick and Coffin became convinced that Sung was mentally ill. They told Sung that he had been working too hard, and that they would find him a place to rest.

The resting place turned out to be the Bloomingdale Mental Asylum of New York Hospital. Sung was confined for 193 days.

http://juicyecumenism.com/2014/02/17/escape-from-union-theological-seminary-how-the-wesley-of-china-found-faith-again/

davidk on February 18, 2014 at 6:01 AM

wutzupdak on February 16, 2014 at 11:33 PM

Cleombrotus on February 17, 2014 at 7:03 AM

I like both of these.

Ed Morrissey on February 17, 2014 at 8:21 AM

Both true and thought provoking.

Warms my heart reading posts here on these Sunday threads. Seeing us all thinking about the Lord’s truths and pondering His wisdom and inspiring many of us. Helping us all, no matter where we are on the road to Him.

Elisa on February 18, 2014 at 9:45 AM

Ed:
I’m going to read and re-read your post a few times. I’m trying to reconnect with my Orthodox Christianity. Your messages help make sense of a sometimes confusing Biblical intent. Thank you.

PhillyCon on February 17, 2014 at 2:33 PM

http://ocf.net/

davidk on February 18, 2014 at 12:06 PM