THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Lesson 9: Chapter 5
Discourse #1: The Conclusion of the Beatitudes and
The Sermon on the Mount Continued

Merciful Father,
You sent Your beloved Son to suffer and to die for the salvation of mankind.  You did not send Him to do away with suffering in the world but to unite His suffering to ours so that "through His stripes we might be healed."  It is when we unite our suffering to His that our suffering is transformed and becomes redemptive suffering unto salvation.  You did not promise us that the road to eternal life would be easy, Lord, but You have promised that we would never make the journey alone so long as we unite our lives to the life of Your Son.  Send us, our Father, Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study; we pray in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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BLESSED ARE THEY WHO ARE PERSECUTED FOR THE SAKE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

 To you who hear me, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.
Luke 6:27

Then he said to all, If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

In the "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus calls His 1st century AD disciples and all Christians of every generation to live the transformed life of the New Covenant Law, empowered by the supernatural grace of God the Holy Spirit filling and indwelling the purified heart each believer.  To begin our transformation, we reject a proud and independent spirit and admit "poverty of spirit," yielding to the sovereignty of God over our lives and admitting that we need to depend on God.  Yielding to God in "poverty of spirit" defines our relationship with God and places us before His throne.  Submitting to a rebirth through the supernatural power of Christian baptism by water and the spirit, He promises us an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Coming face to face with a pure and holy God, we become aware of our sins.  Our natural reaction is to mourn our sins and the sins of the world.  He promises to comfort us when we respond in sincere contrition, to give us the strength to resist personal sin, and the strength to stand against sin in the world.  The result is we are purified and renewed as we yield our selfish wills to the will of God working in our lives.  When in meekness and humility we yield our will to Him, He gives us dominion over the earth "a earth that no longer has power over us, and we become heirs to the earthly Kingdom, the Universal Church which has the power and dominion to bind and loose the power of sin on the earth. 

The first three beatitudes have addressed our relationship with God the Father.  The next four beatitudes turn from what we need to give to God to what God is going to give to us through the work of His Son and our Savior.  Our submission to His will brings about in us a hunger and thirst for righteousness; a hunger and thirst which can only be satisfied by the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus our Savior.  We eat Him but He consumes us and places in us a pure heart "His heart which cleanses us and makes us instruments of peace.  As children of God we become new creatures in His image and we see the face of God in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and in the faces of every soul we meet.  We are called, through the supernatural gift of God the Holy Spirit, to allow our souls to be a conduit of His love flowing out to a world so desperately in need of His love. 

Matthew 5:10-12 ~ Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11 Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus' warning is that if you chose to live the beatitudes you will receive the eternal blessings of the righteous, but you will also experience the temporal enmity of the wicked.  The enmity the wicked bear the righteous is a reoccurring theme in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (see Wis 2:12-24), and Jesus revisits this theme in Matthew 5:10-12.  If the Beatitudes are the conditions for Christian character that Jesus establishes for gaining entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven, then verses 10 and 12 are the invitation to put these spiritual precepts of the New Covenant Law into practice.

Question: How would you characterize Jesus' job description for a disciple?
Answer: Short term trials followed by long very long term rewards.  Jesus is warning His disciples that they are taking their place as the successors to the holy prophets of old and that many will suffer the same fate as the Old Testament prophets "persecution, suffering and possibly death.  The man or woman who stands for God stands against the world and the world can be very unforgiving.

The rewards of living the Beatitudes are eternal but to reach that eternal reward may involve suffering.  We must be ready and willing to endure suffering for the sake of our salvation.  If God did not spare His Son or His Son's Mother suffering, why should He spare us?  According to St. Anthony: No one can enter the kingdom of heaven without being tested; it says, take away temptation and no one will be saved  (St. Anthony quoted in Sayings of the Desert Fathers, as quoted from The Beatitudes: Soundings in Christian Tradition, page 104).

Matthew 5:10b: ... for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Question: Is this promise repeated from another blessing?
Answer: Yes, it is an exact repeat of the first beatitude; both stated in the third person plural. 

Scholars who count the Beatitudes as a list of 7 point out that this blessing and promise is a summation of the entire list of the Beatitudes.  Jesus again gives the blessed righteous the assurance of the promise of eternal life.  It is a promise that is fulfilled when "by His death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has 'opened' heaven to us" (CCC# 1025).  It is an opening of heaven that began on the day Jesus was baptized (see Mt 3:16 and CCC #536).   

"BLESSED ARE YOU"

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna [hell].
Matthew 10:28

Matthew 5:11-12 ~ Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In Matthew 5:11, Jesus repeats the previous beatitude with a significant alteration.

Question: How is this blessing in verse 11 addressed to the righteous different from verse 10?
Answer: The blessing changes from the third person "they" to the second person "you."

In directing this blessing personally ("you") to the disciples and the Apostles, Jesus is acknowledging them as successors to the holy prophets of Yahweh who in their obedience to the will of God perished for their faithfulness.  This is a fate that will befall all of the Apostles with the exception of John Zebedee who will suffer imprisonment and other forms of persecution for his commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus does not make the job description for "Emissaries [Apostolos] of God" particular appealing in this life, but there can be no doubt the promise of the long term benefits are eternally great.

St John Chrysostom points out in his homily on the Beatitudes that to be insulted or libeled by someone is not enough to qualify as the blessing of religious persecution. 

Question: What are the limitations placed on the blessing in Matthew 5:11? 
Answer:

  1. When the insult is said because of one's belief in Jesus.
  2. When the things for which a believer is accused of saying concerning Christ (or His Church "the Body of Christ) are false.

His message is that we should not avoid earthly suffering but accept it for the sake of the Kingdom.  In Mark 8:34-35, He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, Whoever wished to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.'  And, as the time of His Passion drew close, Jesus warned the disciples that those who "believe in His name," meaning believing all that He has taught, will be persecuted and possibly killed but they will  receive justice in the final judgment when Jesus comes again.  The key verse is Matthew 24:13 where He promised them: But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.

Jesus' message is clear: to follow Christ and to do what He commands means risking everything in this present life to gain a future eternal reward.  Those who refuse to "take up" their crosses to follow Christ and who act for their own satisfaction and temporal gain endanger their eternal salvation.  It is only when a person dies to self and lives for Christ that he or she unselfishly gives his or her life to God and to others whether in marriage, or in parenting, or in acts of love and charity to others.  The Christian life is based on self-denial: There is no Christianity without the Cross! (CCC 459), or as St. Rose of Lima wrote: The only ladder to heaven is the Cross.

Question: In Matthew 5:12, why does Jesus say that those who are persecuted should "rejoice and be glad"?  How is the promised "joy" linked to persecution?
Answer: The joy is to come not in spite of the persecution but because of it.  Even though the promised Kingdom has not yet come, the faithful one who is persecuted can rejoice because the future blessing of the kingdom, also promised to the prophets of old, makes the suffering bearable. 

The result of being a conduit of His love is that those in the world who resist His love will take their rage and hurt out on the righteous.  The only retaliation the righteous are allowed for such mistreatment is to mourn the sins of the world, to "turn the other cheek" in offering the world Christian love for His sake as a beacon of truth.  Christians will face persecution of the sake of the Savior, but when they do suffer He promises that their reward will greatly outweigh their sufferings, and they will claim their reward in the loving arms of the eternal Father in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The Beatitudes contain 7 or 8 (depending on how you count them) successive fundamental spiritual states that every Christian must strive to achieve. The Beatitudes must be lived fully and completely just as the Ten Commandments have to be lived in their entirety, just as all 7 of the gifts of the Holy Spirit must be claimed to be opened in our souls (Is 11:1-2; CCC 1831), and just as all 12 "fruits" of the Holy Spirit must ripen within us in order for us to bear the "good fruit" of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; CCC 1832).  But the Beatitudes, as the New Covenant Law, represent both a present and a future fulfillment.  Just as Jesus was a present reality in His Resurrection as the "firstfruit" of the Resurrection that is promised to all of us (Colossians 1:15) in a future reality, Jesus wants us to be strengthened and encouraged by the "firstfruits" of these spiritual gifts even though the great harvest He will reap is yet to come when Christ returns to gather His elect (1 Thes 4:16).  The 1st Beatitude we must achieve on this spiritual journey to heaven, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, both sets the spiritual tone of His homily and suggests the present reality. 

Question: The blessing-promise of the first beatitude is expressed in what verb tense?
Answer: In the present tense: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Question: The final blessing-promise, which addresses persecution, is expressed in what verb tense?
Answer: The promise of this Beatitude: Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, is also expressed in the present tense. 

Question: The other blessings all contain a verb in what tense?  What is significant about the verse tenses in the Beatitudes?
Answer: The other promises are in the simple future tense "they will or shall be..."  The beatitudes promise a present and a future fulfillment. 

It is through the universal Catholic Church and especially the sacraments, the visible signs of God's grace given to the Church through the works of Jesus the Messiah, that our Lord and Savior blesses and encourages us in this life as we look forward to the next:

  1. It is now through the Sacrament of Baptism that we are reborn into the family of God, and that we receive the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  2. It is now through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we are purified of our sins comforted in mourning for our sins
  3. It is now through yielding our lives to God in meekness and humility that we obediently follow the teachings of Mother Church, and through the Sacrament of Confirmation that we are strengthen in our struggle and place ourselves in the hands of God as Apostles for Christ.  When we allow the works of God to work through us, our lives are useful to ourselves, useful to our families, useful to our local communities and to the spread of the Gospel in the world.
  4. It is now through the Sacrament of the Eucharist that Christ the Righteous One gives all of Himself to us filling us with His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
  5. It is now that through the corporal works of mercy that we are called to show the same kind of mercy and forgiveness that God has given us to everyone we meet.
  6. It is now that Jesus cleanses our hearts so that we can love with the same kind of love with which Jesus loves us.  It is through acts of mercy that we have Jesus' promise that we will see His face in the sacred meal of Holy Communion and in every person who is hurt or suffering.  Jesus also gives us the healing of our physical and emotional suffering through the Sacrament of Anointing.
  7. It is now that we are called to let "the peace of God rule in our lives" (Col 3:15).  In response to His call we let that peace diffuse through us into the world as ministers of peace called to a royal priesthood in Christ, while others of us are called to the ministerial priesthood and holy orders.
  8. And finally, there is the promise of persecution, which may be a summation of the 7 Beatitudes, but it is in any case clearly a present reality which promises the future reality in the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In His call to a transformed life, Jesus asks us to daily live the spiritual reality of the beatitudes.  He asks us to walk in His footsteps, spreading His love and giving His mercy, but we must also keep our eyes on heaven for that is our future and eternal reality!  The last promised blessing is also a bridge to the continued teaching on living the spiritual love of the Beatitudes.  Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, is immediately followed by the salt and light metaphors, illustrating the blessing of the spiritual fertility that comes from living the beatitudes and bearing the fruit of our faith which is the good deeds that glorify God.

The summation of living the Law of love on the journey to salvation and the repeat of the first promise:

Blessed are they (blessed are
you) who are persecuted:
we take up our crosses and
follow Jesus, committing
ourselves to everything He
has taught us " even enduring
persecution for His sake

but joyfully because we know
He has promised us eternal
life in our Father's Kingdom.

The Sermon on the Mount Continued:

The Teaching on the Application of the New Covenant Law

The People of God is marked by characteristics that clearly distinguish it from all other religious, ethnic, political, or cultural groups found in history ...  Its mission [the Church] is to be salt of the earth and light of the world.  This people is a most sure seed of unity, hope, and salvation for the whole human race.'
CCC# 782

The Metaphors of Salt and Light

Please read Matthew 5:13 ~ The Salt Metaphor
13 You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 

If the Beatitudes outline the steps to achieve spiritual Christian perfection, then the salt and light metaphors begin the teaching on the application of that perfection.

Question: This passage focuses on two opposing forces, what are they?
Answer: The righteous believer/the Church versus the unrighteous/the world.

This is a difficult assignment. Jesus commands that Christians live the Beatitudes for the good of a world that stands in opposition to Christian values and beliefs.  He approaches this teaching by using a very useful and practical metaphor.  Every home in the first century, and every home today "rich and poor alike, has both salt to season food and give a more pleasing taste and light to illuminate the house at sundown. 

Question: In addition to improving the flavor of foods for what other purposes can salt be used?
Answer: 1. as a preservative, 2. to improve health, 3. as a purifier, and 4. to safeguard a slippery path.

  1. Preservative: In ancient times as in modern times, salt is used as a preservative.  In the days before refrigeration salt was especially important; for example salted fish was a staple of the Roman Empire. 
  2. Health: So much of our processed foods contain salt that we probably do not consider salt as necessary to good health, but the ancients certainly understood the benefits of adequate amounts of salt in a diet for the sake of one's health.
  3. Purifier: We also do not think of salt as a purifier but just drop a little salt on a wound and you will understand the "purifying" effects of salt.  It is the salt in the oceans of the world that act as a natural cleaning agent, and most water purification systems use salt as a "purifier."
  4. Non-slippery agent: The ancients wouldn't have wasted salt on a slippery path "as a commodity it was too valuable to them to be wasted that way unless the salt had lost its flavor and was no longer salty "something that could happen to Dead Sea salt that was full of impurities. It wouldn't be the true salt that had lost flavor, sodium chloride is a very stable compound, but instead the impurities that were left in the container that had once held the salt crystals.  The powdery impurities would only be good to be thrown out and trampled underfoot on some road or dirty footpath.

Question: Since Jesus is using salt as a metaphor for the Christian's positive influence, how do each of these uses of salt compare to the Christian's/Church's impact on the world and what does this suggest about the condition of the world in general and the unrighteous in particular?  Use the examples of salt as a 1). preservative, 2). health aid, 3). purifier, and 4). non-slippery agent in your answer.
Answer:

The Christian and the Church versus the World in the Salt Metaphor

The World The Christian/the Church
1. The world is in a state of spiritual decay and has no "flavor" for holiness. Christian influence for righteousness preserves and encourages what is holy and good, saving the world through the "salt" of faith and righteousness and providing a moral standard based on a "taste" for the righteousness of Christ in the Eucharist.
2. The world promotes unhealthy behavior both physically and spiritually.  Sin is harmful to living creatures. In teaching the Law of God and the Gospel message of salvation the Christian promotes temporal health for the body and eternal health for the soul.
3. The world is a corrupting influence; the material and selfish values of the world are in complete opposition to the values of the Christian. The Christian example is one of purification of body, mind and spirit in giving the self-sacrificial love of Jesus to each other and to the world in general.
4. The world is on the slippery slope to eternal damnation. The Christian example provides stability through the God given institutions of marriage, family, and the Church.  It is the Church as our mother who teaches us the way to salvation and eternal life.  It is our obligation as Christians living the Beatitudes to share this teaching with the world.
M. Hunt, copyright October 2005

Please read Matthew 5:14-16 ~ The Christian as the light of the world.
14 You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.  15 Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.  16 Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.

In the Gospel of John Jesus identifies Himself as the "light" three times:

However, in Matthew 5:14 He identifies the Christian as the "light of the world." 

Question: Is this a contradiction in Scripture?  See Jn 12:36
Answer: Certainly not!  The Christian does not generate his own "light;" it is Christ Himself who generates this supernatural internal light of the Christian soul.  We reflect the burning love of Christ within us.  In John 12:36 Jesus tells the disciples "...believe in the light so that you may become children of the light."  Jesus Christ is "the light" and it is Christ who empowers us to be "children of the light."

Question: How does Jesus define Christian light?  See Mt 5:16.
Answer: The "light" of God's children are the good deeds of Christians "the works of Jesus Christ, "the Light," working through and illuminating His children with His light. 

Question: What is the implied contrast between the Christian/the Church and the world?
Answer: The world is in darkness and the Church, through the Body of believers, provides the light of salvation to the world.

Question: What are the examples given to express the metaphor of Christian light in positive and negative images?
Answer:

Jesus is the Light of the world and we are called to reflect His light so that we can live as "children of the light." As St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness... But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and built one another up, as indeed you do (1 Thes 5:5-11).

The Christian and the Church versus the World in the Light Metaphor:

The World The Christian/the Church
The world is in darkness It is the Christian's duty to let the light that is Christ and the Gospel message of salvation shine through the Christian soul and Christian community to illuminate the earth as a beacon of truth and mercy.
Michal E. Hunt © Oct. 2005

Question: In St. John's vision of the universal Church as the Bride of Christ, how does he describe the appearance of the Bride's wedding garment in Revelation 19:7-8?
Answer: The Church/Bride's wedding garment was woven of the righteous deeds of Christians. 

Question: But what is the condition placed on the Christian in order to be a source of salt and light?  Please read Romans 12:2 to help you with your answer.
Answer: The Christian is indeed "in the world" but the Christian must not be "of the world."  The faithful believer must remain apart from the world and in no way conform to or become contaminated by what is acceptable behavior in the world that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ or he/she will lose "flavor" and loose "light."

The Christian must remain distinctively Christian in all aspects of life.  If Christians become indistinguishable from non-Christians then the Church has lost her distinctive call to lost souls to come out of the sinful influences of the world and into God's covenant family.  The Church should be an instrument that promotes "social justice" but social justice is only an outgrowth of the works of faith to which the Church is called.  The main focus of the message must always be salvation through Jesus Christ. 

When a Christian or a faith community becomes influenced by the world and the teachings of Christ become diluted, conforming to what the world supports in its changing values suited to the changing times (for example: abortion, birth control, same sex marriages, divorce, etc.), there is a price to be paid. 

Question: If a Christian becomes something contrary to what the Church and Sacred Scripture teach, what is the value of their Christian witness?  See Mt 5:13.
Answer: In that case, a Christian goes from "righteous disciple" to useless "road dirt;" as Jesus says, "no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."  We must transform the world without the world leaving its mark on us.  Preserving the uniquely Christian character of the Church as passed down to us by Jesus Christ is the call to Christian responsibility and obedience. 

If the Christian is the salt that preserves, purifies and improves the world as well as the light that enlightens mankind, then those who are attached to the world destroy rather than purify, and they live in darkness unlike the Christian who provides the light of Christ that illuminates the world.  Jesus tells us it is the New Covenant believer who will save the world through the salt of faith and who will provide the internal light that guides hearts and souls out of the darkness of sin and despair and into the light which is Christ.  In our Christian mission that is contrary to the teaching and wisdom of the world, we must be ever mindful of Jesus' warning to us as we struggle against worldly influence:  If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19).

Please read Matthew 5:17-20 ~ Teaching about the Law
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  18 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.  19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches other 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.  20 I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus begins this part of His discourse with the assurance that He has not come to abandon the earlier revelation of the commands and prohibitions of Yahweh's Law until "all things have taken place" and the Law has been "fulfilled" (verses 17-18).  By referring to "the Law and the prophets" Jesus' reference is to the entire content of Sacred Scripture from first of the book of Moses (Genesis) to the last book of the prophets (Malachi).

Question: To stress this assurance what statement does Jesus make and what example does Jesus use concerning His solidarity with "the Law" as expressed in the sacred writings?
Answer: He says no part of the Law, not the smallest letter or part of a letter of the Law,

will be abolished until "heaven and earth pass away" and until "all things have taken place."

In verse 18 Jesus says [literally] until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a keraia will pass from the law until all is accomplished." The "iota" [ee-o-tah] is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew yod, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet which is about the size of a comma, and the keraia [ker-ah'-yah], or "something horn-like," refers to one of the tiny hooks or projections which distinguish some Hebrew letters from other letters.  Luke records the same use this word in Luke 16:17: It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away then for the [keraia] smallest part of a letter of the law to become invalid.  Although in this statement Jesus does not mention "the prophets" as He does in the previous verse, Jesus is probably using the "the law" as a comprehensive term for the entire body of divine revelation in the Old Testament. 

But what exactly would Jesus fulfill and what does the reference to "all these things" mean?  To answer that question it is necessary to examine what is contained in the sacred books of what we call the Old Testament.  The Old Testament contains:

  1. Doctrinal teaching:  The Old Testament instructs humanity about God: the revelation of His relationship with man and the promise of man's salvation.  It is, however, an incomplete revelation.
  2. Ethical precepts: The moral law is revealed throughout the Old Testament, instructing God's people in holiness.
  3. History and Predictive prophecy: Predictive prophecies are warnings of God's judgment and the promise of the coming of the Messiah from King David's line.  Predictive prophecy anticipates the coming of Jesus the Messiah either in direct prophecy or foreshadows Him in biblical "types" (for example, the story of God's command to sacrifice Abraham's son Isaac in Genesis 22:1-18). Predictive prophecy anticipates a future fulfillment.

There are modern scholars who would take exception to including "predictive prophecy" in this list, but to deny the validity of predictive prophecy in Sacred Scripture is to deny that God had a comprehensive plan for the salvation of humanity. Please note that a biblical "type" is "a biblical person, thing, action or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events.  In the Old Testament, Melchizedech and Jonah are types of Jesus Christ.  A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype but the latter is always greater.  Both are independent of each other.  God's call for the return of the Israelites from Pharaoh's bondage typifies the return of Jesus Christ from his flight into Egypt.  In the New Testament the destruction of Jerusalem, foretold by Christ, was the antitype of the end of the world." [The Catholic Dictionary, abridged edition of Modern Catholic Dictionary, sub category: "Types, Scriptural", page 441.

Question: What key statement does Jesus make and repeat with slightly different wording in Matthew 5:18 and 20, and what is its significance?
Answer: Verse 18: "Amen, I say to you..." and verse 20 "I tell you..." Jesus is issuing commands in His own name and under His own authority.  No other prophet or scribe had ever spoken with such authority. 

The Law of the Sinai Covenant, given by Yahweh through His prophet Moses and reinforced by the prophets of God throughout the Old Testament, was a gift of God to His holy covenant people.  It was the Law that bound the Israelites to Yahweh, and it was the Law that bound Yahweh to the Israelites.  But, it was also a gift in anticipation of the more perfect Law that the promised Messiah would usher in, beginning with His reign over the Church "the "new Israel": "The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah..." (Jer 31:31). 

The Magisterium of the universal Church interprets the Old Covenant Law in this anticipatory light as looking forward to Jesus as the new lawgiver, an interpretation which is expressed in the documents of the Council of Trent and in the Catechism:

With Jesus' announcement "I say" and not "God says" He is declaring his superiority over Moses and the other Old Testament prophets.  Jesus is declaring that He is the new lawgiver, the promised One who is "greater than Moses" prophesied by Yahweh in Deuteronomy 18:18-19; the prophet to whom God commanded the Covenant people they must listen and obey.  Speaking to Moses Yahweh had revealed: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.  If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it."

When Jesus says "until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law..." His promise is that none of divine revelation, in the smallest part, will pass away or be discarded until it has all been fulfilled in Him.  His statement that none will pass away "until heaven and earth pass away" affirms that when they do "pass away" a mighty rebirth will take palce and time as we know it will change.  The final fulfillment of the "passing away" of the one and the birth of the other will coincide.

Question: When does Jesus say this event will take place?
Answer: Not until "all things have taken place" (Mt 5:18).

Many would say this reference is to the end of time and the cosmos as we know it, but this question requires further examination.  Jesus' reference may not concern the end of the world in the sense of the dissolution of the existing universe. 

In the beginning of his homily in Acts chapter two on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, St. Peter quotes from the Old Testament book of the prophet Joel 3:1-5.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter declares that Joel's prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth and on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which celebrated God's gift of the Law and the covenant at Mt. Sinai, God the Holy Spirit has come down upon the New Covenant people praying with the Virgin Mary in the Upper Room, filling and indwelling the believers of the New Covenant and that these events are ... what was spoken through the prophet Joel.  Peter is declaring that Jesus' death and resurrection has ushered in a New Age and a New Creation.  His resurrection and this supernatural event in the Second Great Pentecost is, in fact, the promised "Day of the Lord" that has signaled the beginning of the Final Age of man "the age in which we all now live. 

St. Paul affirms this teaching when he writes in 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 that the events in the Old Testament "happened as examples for us" (verse 6) and that the events that unfolded in the lives of the Old Testament men and women were written for our benefit: These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (verse 11).

Question: What is the key phrase found in Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:17-20?
Answer: The key phrase is verse 17 in which Jesus promises that He has not come to abolish but to fulfill: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

Question: What in the Old Law will Jesus fulfill through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection that will bring New Covenant believers through their baptism by water and the spirit into the family of God and usher in the eternal Kingdom on earth, the universal Church, as prophesied by the prophet Daniel in Daniel 2:44 and 7:27
Answer:

Jesus' statement "until all things have taken place" before the Law is "fulfilled" is a reference to Jesus' Passion, death, and Resurrection.  In one of Jesus' last statements from the Cross, He will speak of fulfillment/completion: After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst."  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a   sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished."  And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit (Jn 19:28-30).  

In the Greek text Jesus said "Teltelestai" = It is finished or It is fulfilled, or It is paid in full.  The Old Covenant Law that prepared us for His coming is fulfilled.  It cannot be His work of salvation because that will not be fulfilled until His glorious resurrection.  It is the Old Covenant sacrificial and purification system that has been fulfilled in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  He became the ultimate, the perfect sacrifice for sin.  Jesus came to "finish" or "fulfill" God's work of salvation, as he told His disciples in John 4:34: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work (also see Jn 17:4), and to "pay in full" the penalty for our sins.  With His perfect sacrifice on the cross, the Old Covenant animal sacrifices and the ritual purity rites, which were an imperfect, temporary measure, ended.  The Law contained in the Sacred Scriptures (Jn 19:28) was perfected and fulfilled.

Question: In Matthew 5:19 what warning does Jesus give concerning the Law and what promise?  How does Jesus say greatness is measured in the Kingdom of Heaven?
Answer: He warns in verse 19: 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. Jesus teaches that greatness in the kingdom will be measured by obedience and correct teaching of the Law. 

Using the conjunction oun, which can be translated as "certainly", "accordingly," "then", or "therefore," Jesus makes the vital connection between faithful obedience to the Law and entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus also makes it clear that personal obedience is not good enough.  The faithful Christian disciple must also teach others the permanently binding nature of God's commands.  Greatness in God's Kingdom will be measured by living and teaching in obedience to the laws of God "teaching our children, our extended families, our neighbors, and the world. 

In Matthew 5:20 Jesus declares: "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Question: What standard does Jesus set for His disciples in verse 20?
Answer: Not only is the Christian's "greatness" in God's Kingdom measured by a righteousness which conforms completely in obedience to God's law, but entry into the Kingdom is not possible without an obedience that surpasses that of the scribes, and Pharisees.

The scribes, most of whom were of the order of the lesser Levitical ministers, were the 1st century AD theologians and teachers.  God's kingdom is a kingdom of the wholly righteous!

Question: Why does Jesus use the Pharisees as the minimum standard?  Were they 1st century AD religious liberals who "winked" at the Law?
Answer: Quite the contrary; the religious/political sect of the Pharisees prided themselves on their righteous and rigid adherence to the "Law." 

Their very name came from the Hebrew word for "separate."  Their goal was to completely separate themselves from the sinner and to use the Law to "build a wall" of holiness around the Covenant people.  Pharisee teachers of the Law had calculated that the Law of Moses contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions; totaling 611 articles of the Law (it was the great Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 AD) who added the two additional commands to total 613 articles of the Law).  Jesus would have amazed those listening to His statement that they must exceed the holiness of the religious experts and the rigorously observant Pharisees who were so formally correct in their external observation of the minutest detail of the Law!

But what Jesus is calling for as a standard of perfection of righteousness that is not the rigid external holiness of the Pharisees.  Instead, He is calling for a deeper, spiritually intense holiness that comes from the inner most spiritually pure heart of Covenant believers "a perfection of holiness and obedience to the Law that was promised by Yahweh through the 6th century BC Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer 31:3331-34 and Ez 36:25-27).

These two passages that look forward to the Messianic Age link the New Covenant to a New Law and a new heart generated by the Spirit of God.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is inaugurating the New Law founded upon an inward righteousness that is manifested by the Spirit of God and evidenced by external acts of mercy " for Yahweh loves a heart of holiness!  The link between His Spirit that God will put into our hearts, and His love clearly shows that we cannot have one without the other.  It is the Spirit who circumcises the heart of the children of God.  This is why entry into the Kingdom is impossible without holiness deeper than that of the scribes and the Pharisees "it is because such righteousness is evidence of the new birth through water and the Spirit the one must be reborn from above to enter the Kingdom of God.

Question: If Jesus fulfilled the purification rites and ritual sacrifices so that they are no longer necessary, what remains of the Sinai Covenant that He will transform but leave in place?
Answer: The moral law and the ritual of worship remain "but devoid of imperfect animal sacrifice and replaced by the pure sacrifice of Jesus the Christ. 

Old Covenant Liturgical Worship New Covenant Liturgical Worship
The centralized Church hierarchy ocated in Jerusalem The centralized Church hierarchy located in Rome
The ministerial priesthood The ministerial priesthood
Altar of sacrifice Altar that represents the table of the Last Supper, the empty tomb, and the sacrificial altar.
Holy water for ritual purification Holy water to signify interior purification
Incense in worship representing the prayers of the people rising up to heaven Incense in worship representing the prayers of the people rising up to heaven
Hymns from the Psalms and music Hymns including those from the Psalms and music
Prayers and petitions of the faithful offered to God Prayers and petitions of the faithful offered to God
Readings from Sacred Scripture: the Torah, Writings, and the Prophets Readings from Sacred Scripture: the Old Testament, the New Testament Gospels, Acts and the epistles
Annual Holy Feasts remembering the history of the Sinai Covenant Annual Holy Feasts remembering the birth and history of the Church
The Tamid, a single sacrifice of two lambs daily for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people was the most important of all sacrifices and was commanded to be a perpetual sacrifice for all generations The Eucharist, a perpetual sacrifice of the risen Jesus in His humanity and divinity, offered every hour of the day around the world for the people for all generations
Confession for sin to a priest Confession of sin to a priest
Michal E. Hunt © October 2005

In fact, Catholic liturgy has more elements of Old Covenant worship that modern Rabbinic Judaism.  Modern Judaism has no altar, no sacrifice, and no priests.

The Old Testament was only a partial revelation of God.  Jesus of Nazareth "fulfilled" all the Old Testament in the sense that He brought the Law given to Moses and the teaching of the prophets to completion in His Incarnation, His ministry, and His work of redemption: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe... (Heb 1:1-2; also see  CCC 1962-1974).

Question: What was left from the Law that was transformed but still in place in the New Covenant besides the new form of liturgical worship that would be established on the Lord's Day of Resurrection? 
Answer: It was the Ten Commandments of the moral law that remained.

It is the Moral Law that Jesus addresses in the 6 antitheses which are the higher standards of conduct Jesus demands of the Christian disciple living the Beatitudes of the New Covenant Law.

The Six Antitheses: Six Examples of Conduct Jesus Demands of the Christian Disciple

The six examples of Christian perfection in Matthew 5:21-48 are referred to as the six antitheses.  An antithesis is a contrast or opposition of words or sentiments.  Using the repeated formula "You have heard it said / But I say to you" and "It was also said to you / But I say to you," Jesus makes the contrast between the accepted interpretation of the Mosaic law and His teaching which internalizes and intensifes the Law of Moses to yield a new standard of obedience.   Jesus will use this formula to teach six examples of New Law Christian conduct, and He will use the formula six times in 5:21-22; 27-28; 31-32; 33-34; 38-39; and 43-44 but in verse 26 His additional "I say to you" makes His use of the authoritative "I say to you" number seven times.  Six is the number representing man and rebellion in Scripture while seven represents fullness, completion, and especially spiritual perfection [see the document The Significance of Numbers in Scripture in the Resources section of Agape Bible Study].  The seven times repetition of Jesus' command "I say to you" emphasizes the spiritual perfection to which He calls Christian disciples of all generations. 

Jesus' "You have heard [It was also said] / I say to you" Formula

1. Matthew 5:21-22

Teaching about unrighteous anger
"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..."

2. Matthew 5:27-28

Teaching about sexual immorality
"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."
3. Matthew 5:31-32

Teaching about divorce
"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."
4. Matthew 5:33-34

Teaching about the swearing of oaths
"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..."
5. Matthew 5:38-39

Teaching about retaliation
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a

tooth  for a tooth.'  But I say to you, offer no resistance to one

who is evil."
6. Matthew 5:43-44

Teaching about love of enemies
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your

neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you..."

Michal E. Hunt © October, 2005

#1: Teaching about Unrighteous Anger

Matthew 5:21-26 ~ "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.'  22 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.  23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.  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.  26 Amen, I say to you, 'you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.'"

Note: "gifts" for Yahweh brought to the altar of sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple were animals for sacrifice, grain offerings/unleavened bread offerings, and wine libations.

Question: What gifts are brought to God's altar in the celebration of the Mass?
Answer: Gifts of wine and unleavened bread that will become the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

In this passage Jesus is addressing the destructive power of unrighteous anger.  Righteous anger directed toward injustice and sin is permitted, within limits.  It is permitted to hate a sin like abortion and to feel righteous anger with those who participate in the murder of babies.  Righteous anger can be constructively generated into taking a public stand against such sins.  However, it is not permitted to let that anger fuel personal hatred against abortion doctors or destroy abortions clinics with bombs or fire.  Jesus begins this teaching about unrighteous, destructive anger by referencing the Old Covenant commandment You shall not murder ("murder" is a more accurate translation than "kill" because this action refers to the shedding of innocent blood; see Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17). Jesus raises the bar on the Mosaic commandment "You shall not murder" by addressing the root of the act of shedding innocent blood, which is unrighteous anger. 

There are 4 words that deserve our attention in this passage: raqa, moros [fool], Gehenna, and Sanhedrin. 

  1. Most Bible translations interpret this Aramaic word raqa/raca as "insults."  It is a Semitism that scholars tell us is not an easy word to translate.  It can mean "foolish," "stupid," "blockhead," or "crazy;" but in any case, it is an expression of reproach and conveys contempt for a person. That this Aramaic word is used in the Greek New Testament text without any explanation or translation is probably evidence that it was widely used in Jesus' time as an insult (usually when Semitic words are used in the New Testament an explanation of the word is given).
  2.  The other word translated as "fool" is in the Greek moros, from which we get our word "moron," one devoid of any sense.  But most scholars believe this Greek word does not give the full force of the meaning of the Aramaic word Jesus used.  From the progression of the severity of judgment in this passage we are led to understand that this word carries more force than raqa.   It is believed that the Aramaic word was one which conveyed the meaning of one who is devoid of all moral and religious sense so as to become an apostate "one who separates from the Covenant.  For the Jew the degree of contempt for such a person approaches hatred and condemnation for such a person in this life and in the next, for example the contempt for the Samaritans. 
  3. The word Gehenna is not found in the Old Testament and is used by Jesus in the New Testament to identify the "lake of fire" also called the "bottomless pit" created for Satan and the fallen angels.  It is a place of eternal punishment.  In the Old Testament blessings and punishments were temporal, but in the New Covenant blessings and punishments are eternal!
  4. The Sanhedrin was the highest judicial body of the Old Covenant people.  In the  1st century BC, Judah had become the Roman province of Judea, but the Romans allowed the Jews to control their own civil and religious judgments.  The Sanhedrin, however, was not permitted to impose the death penalty "only the Roman overlords had the power over life and death.

In this passage Jesus points to three degrees of faults and their corresponding punishments or judgments which are committed against charity (charity is defined as love in action).  St. Augustine notes that our Lord points to three faults we commit moving from internal irritation to showing a total lack of love (Augustine, Homilies on the Sermon on the Mount, II.9).

Question: What are three degrees of fault and the corresponding judgment?
Answer:  

Fault Corresponding judgment
1. Feeling angry (verse 22a) Falling under the "judgment" of God
2. Insulting remark (verse 22b) Chastisement of "the Sanhedrin" (the council of judgment)
3. Hatred (verse 22c) Eternal punishment "by the fires of hell"

Jesus' teaching is that anger that comes to the point of endangering our immortal souls is generated by a sin that begins in the heart.  The heart must be purified before the sin is manifested in an action that can have eternal consequences.

Question: What restriction does Jesus impose on worshipers in Matthew 5:23-26?
Answer: Reconciliation of "anger against a brother" or "an opponent" is urged before one comes to worship God at His holy altar.

One must not come to God's sacrificial altar with the sin of anger in one's heart.  The Rite of Peace in the celebration of the Mass allows us one final opportunity to make amends before coming forward to receive the Lord in the Eucharist.  Jesus tells a short parable in verses 25-26 to illustrate the dangers of the sin of anger.  The sever judgment of the Judge in the parable is a warning of the fate in store for unrepentant sinners when they stand before the judgment throne of God.

Question: The judgment in the parable is not eternal punishment but what kind of punishment for an angry and unforgiving heart?  The "prison" mentioned by Jesus is a metaphor for what place of purification from sin?  See Mt 5:25-26; CCC 633, 1030-32 and Lk 16:22-26.
Answer: It is either the punishing side of Sheol for those who died prior to Christ's Passion and Resurrection or the purification available to the Christian soul in Purgatory. 

Jesus cannot be referring to Gehenna, or eternal punishment (Hell), because there is no "release" from Hell/Gehenna, whereas in Jesus' parable there is the promise of a release: "Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny" (Mt 5:26).   For more references to Purgatory see CCC 1033-36; 1 Cor 3:10; 1 Pt 3:19; 4:1; 4:6, 12).  Sheol, the abode of the dead, is often referred to as "prison" in the Old and New Testaments (see 1 Pt 3:19 and CCC 633).  Jesus will use the Hebrew word "Amen/emen" when He wants to emphasis a statement.  It is a Semitic acrostic meaning "It is true" or "I believe" formed from the Hebrew words for "God is a trustworthy king."

St. Paul warned the Christian faith community at Ephesus of the danger of unrighteous anger.

Question: What advise does St. Paul give the Christians of Ephesians 4:27-32?
Answer: Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sunset on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.  [...].  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.  All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. 

#2: Teaching about Sexual Immorality

Matthew 5:27-30 ~ "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 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.  30 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."

Once again Jesus refers to the Ten Commandments, this time concerning the prohibition against adultery (see Ex 20:14; Dt 5:18), and once again He raises the standard of conduct by addressing the interior root of the sin using the formula "But I say to you."

Question: How does Jesus raise the standard beyond the infidelity of a married or betrothed person?
Answer: The lustful thought or glance at any woman, whether she is married or not, is now judged to be a sin. 

Under the Old Law only adultery and coveting one's neighbor's wife were considered sinful.  Now, Jesus is teaching that to have impure thoughts about a woman who is not one's wife or to look at a woman with lust (disordered desires) not only soils the soul of the man but is also a design toward denigrating the holiness of the woman.  There is a difference between right desire between a man and a woman joined in a covenantal union who give themselves to each other unselfishly in love as opposed to lust which is a disordered desire that is selfishly motivated to use the other person for sexual gratification. Notice that Jesus says the sin begins in the heart.  It is the heart which represents the total character, intellect, and will of a person.  Then in verses 29-30 Jesus uses hyperbole (an exaggerated statement) to emphasize that no sacrifice is too great in order to avoid the judgment of an eternity in Gehenna (the hell of the damned).

#3: Teaching about Divorce

Matthew 5:31-32 ~ "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.'  32 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."

Question: When was a marriage considered "unlawful" under the Law of the Sinai Covenant?  See Lev 18:6-18.
Answer: When the kinship relationship was considered too close.

Divorce for other reasons was not permitted under the Sinai Covenant until Moses permitted divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Question: Under what condition did Moses permit divorce?
Answer: Moses permitted divorce for "something indecent" which could refer to adultery but could also be loosely interpreted to be anything that displeased a husband. 

Although God allowed Moses to make this exception, Jesus is clearly teaching that divorce is a sin in God's eyes.  The great Rabbi Maimonides wrote that Moses only permitted divorce in order to prevent a greater sin "the murder of the older wives as the means which allowed men to dispose of their obligations to their wives in order to marry younger women.  This interpretation is supported by an exchange Jesus had with some Pharisees in Matthew 19:1-9 where He stated that any disillusion of a marital covenant union as a sin with the exception of unlawful marriages.  In that passage, the Pharisees asked Jesus why then did Moses allow divorce.  Jesus replied Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  Then, using the formula statement emphasizing His authority, Jesus said, I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery; repeating His statement in Matthew 5:32.

The Catholic Church has remained faithful to Jesus' teaching concerning the sanctity of marriage: Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law.  It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death.  Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign.  Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery...(CCC # 2384; also see CCC #s 1650-51; 2382; 2385-86).

#4: Teaching about the Swearing of Oaths

Matthew 5:33-37 ~ "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.'  34 But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  36 Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.  37 Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.'  Anything more is from the evil one."

Question: Jesus names what four subjects by which oaths must not be sworn.  What do they have in common?
Answer: One must not swear by heaven, by earth, by the holy city of Jerusalem (the city of David and the promised Messiah), nor by their own person.  God has dominion over all of these.

This teaching is often misunderstood.  Jesus is not forbidding all oath-swearing but is instead cautioning against frivolous oath-swearing.  To swear an oath is a serious affair because it invokes the divine.  An oath calls upon God to be the judge of the oath-maker and his oath "in the event that the oath-maker fails in his/her obligations God delivers the judgment.  In courts of law in our nation, it has been our tradition to place our right hands on a Bible and swear to "tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God."  Such an oath invokes God as the judge of our truthfulness and even if we deceive the State we are acknowledging through the oath that we cannot deceive God.  Evidently in Jesus' time oath-swearing and the use of God's name was being abused.

Question:  In addressing the serious offense of unnecessary oath-swearing Jesus is calling for Christians to exhibit truthfulness, sincerity, and acts of virtuous solemnity.  How is Jesus calling Christians to live these virtues?
Answer:

  1. Truthfully say what you will or will not do;
  2. Being sincere in your promises, and
  3. Solemnly carry out what you have said you will do.

The act of oath-swearing in fact to some extent presupposes untruthfulness.  Jesus reminds His disciples that to tell a lie places us within the realm of the "prince of lies" " the devil.  Jesus is calling the Christian to a higher standard of truthfulness that makes oath-swearing unnecessary.  See the CCC 2150-54 for more information.

#5: Teaching about Retaliation

Matthew 5:38-42 ~ "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  39 But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.  When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.  40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.  42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

The expression an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is found in the Law codes of Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21 and is called the lex talionis, the law of reciprocity or equivalent compensation.  Most people regard the Old Testament command an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth as unreasonably harsh and barbaric.  On the contrary, this commandment was meant to moderate vengeance, to protect the innocent family members of an accused or convicted perpetrator of a crime, and to ensure that the punishment visited on the offender did not exceed the crime.  It was common in ancient cultures for a man's entire family to suffer the death penalty or to be sold into slavery for his offense.  The law of reciprocity or equivalent compensation, found in the Law Codes of the Sinai Covenant and also in the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian law code dating to the 17th century BC, demands that the punishment fits but does not exceed the crime.  This law became the mark of a civilized society.

Question: What is Jesus asking beyond seeking equivalent compensation for the commission of a crime?
Answer: Jesus is demanding of the Christian seems an almost impossible standard of conduct, to "offer no resistance to evil."

The response Jesus asks is beyond seeking equivalent compensation for the commission of a crime, or for an injustice or for an inconvenience.
Question: What four examples of acting in love rather than in retaliation does Jesus give?
Answer:

  1. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. Offer meekness and love in place of violence and evil.
  2. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. This example refers to someone taking you to court for not handing over your tunic as collateral for a loan.
  3. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. The Roman occupiers of Judea had the right to press ordinary citizens into service.
  4. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. Be generous with your material possession with someone who wants to borrow.

What He is demanding of the Christian seems an almost impossible standard of conduct; He asks the Christian to "offer no resistance to evil" and to "go the extra mile" in extending love and compassion. Jesus is not demanding that Christians become the "footstools of the wicked," and He is not rejecting the law of reciprocity, but what He is rejecting is vengeance or meanness on a personal level. In Romans 12:19, St. Paul teaches, Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

That is not to say we do not seek civil justice for wrongs. Without civil laws society would be in anarchy for there would be no other deterrent for the behavior of the unrighteous non-believer. But when the civil laws do not bring justice, we are promised God's divine justice and His vengeance on our behalf. Whenever we are seeking redress for wrongs inflicted upon us we must be willing to acknowledge that ultimately justice must be left in the hands of our just and true God to deliver justice either temporally or eternally. We must also acknowledge that when we are being asked to be merciful, that in the repentance of our sins and in our individual judgment before the throne of God we will be pleading for His divine mercy. The way the meek and merciful peacemakers of the Beatitudes strike back at their enemies is through love by praying for their enemies, and the way we show our gratitude for God's mercy is by extending our mercy to others.

#6: Teaching about the Love of Enemies

You don't love in your enemies what they are, but what you would have them become by your prayers.
St. Augustine (354-430AD)

Matthew 5:43-48 ~ "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same?  47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?  48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

To hate your enemy (verse 43) is not a teaching found in the Old Testament.  There is, however, a command to love one's neighbor in Leviticus 19:18 which Jesus will repeat in Matthew 19:19; 22:39 and Mark 12:31.  Jesus will also repeat this teaching concerning love of one's enemies in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:27-35.

In Leviticus 19:18 God commanded, Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The Old Covenant people of God interpreted one's "neighbor" as only extending to a member of the covenant people of Yahweh, and hatred of one's enemies as natural and therefore acceptable.

Question: Jesus is teaching that this limited interpretation is no longer acceptable, and He is extending the command to love not only to pagan gentiles but He is also including what other classification in the ranks of the "loved neighbor?"
Answer:  His is extending the command to love even to the enemy and the persecutor. 

Question: What reason does He give for this radical redefinition of those we must love in Matthew 5:45?
Answer: As children of God, Jesus calls upon us to imitate our Father in heaven who grants His blessings of sun and rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous.  In the same way that God does not withhold His blessings, so too must we not withhold our love.

Question: This passage contains the key teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.  What is that key verse?
Answer: It is Matthew 5:48.  The Christian must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In the gospels this Greek word, teleios, "to be perfect," occurs only 3 times; here in this passage [twice] and in Matthew 19:21 where Jesus tells the Rich Young Ruler to go and sell what he has and give it to the poor if he wants to be "perfect."  This standard is an impossible demand without the action of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling His disciples to a higher standard of faithfulness than was require of the faithful who had lived under the Law of the Sinai Covenant.  St. Paul taught in Romans 10:4: Christ is the end of the Law for the justification of everyone who has faith, which means that yielding to the sovereignty of God only through obedience to the Law is not enough.  The old Mosaic Law has been superseded by God's action in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth who is the goal or true meaning of the "Law of God" and without whom the true meaning of the Law cannot be understood or lived. 

In Romans 13:8-10 St. Paul also speaks of how "love," as defined by Christ, has fulfilled the law of the Old Covenant. In this passage Paul writes: ... for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law, and Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.  Christ is the end and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant Law in two ways:

  1. He fulfills the purpose and goal of the Old Covenant Law.  As He stated in Matthew 5:17, I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.  He does this by perfectly exemplifying God's desires for man created in His image; no other man except the Son of Man could perfectly keep the Law without sinning.
  2. He is also the termination of the Old Covenant Law because without Christ the Old Law was powerless to offer the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal salvation (CCC 1963, 1966).  The Law, in essence, prefigured the Christ.  The sacrificial system was a temporary measure of salvation meant to instruct and prepare humanity for the coming of the Messiah (see Heb 10:1-4).  Christ was the reason for animal sacrifice and the ritual purity laws "the Law pointed to Christ in whom it was fulfilled.  Only through Jesus Christ is the gift of salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to mankind (CCC 601-04, 729,1287).

Under the New Covenant, when the love of Christ directs our moral decisions and our relationships to one another, the intent of the continuing moral law expressed in the Old Covenant is safeguarded and fulfilled.  In fulfilling and transforming the Old Covenant Law, God requires in the New Covenant that the New Law of obedience of faith be lived in the love of Christ.  That love of Christ must be demonstrated by charity to all men and women and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit dwelling in each Christian heart which beats with the life of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth!

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What are some of the differences or similarities that you have noticed between the Old Covenant Law as presented in the Ten Commandments and the New Covenant Law as presented in the Beatitudes?
Answer: The Ten Commandments presents the moral law while the Beatitudes present the spiritual law.  The Ten Commandments are negative commands: You shall not, while the Beatitudes are positive statements: Blessed are the..; however, a negative is implied if the blessing is not embraced.  In both sets of the Law, the first three statements address our relationship to God, but in the Ten Commandments the remaining commands which address our relationship to others while the remaining 4 Beatitudes move us spiritually into the life of Christ.

Question: What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach about "love of enemies" in CCC 1825?  How is it possible to love those who do not love us?

Question: What is the Church's teaching in the Catechism concerning love in marriage as opposed to lust?  What is the difference between right-ordered desire and disordered desire?  Please see CCC 1604; 1643; 2351

Question: What does the Church teach concerning the love of God and neighbor?  Please see CCC 2011 and 2196.

Question: Is sin an offense against love?  What does the Catechism teach on this matter?  Please see CCC 1849; 1855.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (Mt 5:10-48):  * indicates that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation

5:3-12

1716

5:29-30

226*

5:11-12

520*

5:29

1034*

5:13-16

782*, 2821

5:31-32

2382*

5:14

1243

5:32

2380*

5:16

326

5:33-34

581, 2114, 2153

5:17-19

577, 592*, 1967*

5:33

592*, 2463

5:17

2053*

5:37

2153, 2338*, 2466

5:20

2054

5:42

2443

5:21-22

2054, 2257

5:43-44

1933*, 2844

5:21

2262, 2302

5:44-45

2303, 2608*

5:22-39

2262*

5:44

1825*, 1968*, 2262*

5:22

678*, 1034*, 2203

5:45

2828

5:23-24

2608*, 2792*, 2841*, 2845*

5:46-47

2054*

5:24

1424

5:47

1693

5:27-28

2330*, 2336, 2380*

5:48

443*, 1693, 1968*, 2013, 2842

5:28

1456*, 2513, 2528