Jesus is intent on making clear that what he brings to the world is the fulfillment of the Old Law. The Old Law was good, and it drew hearts that were open into the truth, but there was more to come. Jesus brings MORE; he brings a new way. Jesus IS the new Way.
Today’s Gospel is part of a long section in which Jesus points out the ways he has come to fulfill the Old Testament. He begins with what his listeners already know, and then nudges them deeper; what they know is a superficial observance, but the truth must be observed in the recesses of our hearts.
He begins by explaining that the commandment against killing (which is external) includes anger (which is internal), and the commandment against adultery (external) includes lust (internal). Then he turns to swearing falsely: his listeners already know that they should not take false oaths but be true to their promise; Jesus tells them they should not need to swear at all. In a sense, oaths are meaningless because whatever they would “swear on” is beyond their control. Where is all this going?
Jesus is calling his hearers upward, inward. They are to be people of integrity, who do not need to make an oath to increase their trustworthiness. If they are people who live truth in the heart, then their YES means YES, and their NO means NO. From the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Next, Jesus will raise the bar on loving one’s neighbor to include loving and praying for one’s enemies. This is unheard of in a culture that has lived by “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”! As he does in so many other interactions, Jesus calls those who hear him to move past any superficial or merely external observance of the law or ritual formalities and to internalize them, to be pure in heart, to worship him in spirit and truth. Even more, he calls all his followers to enter into something new and be transformed from within, so that their obedience and faith and trust are deep and genuine, rich with the light and peace of the Spirit. Only in this way can their interactions with one another be blessed.
What does this mean for us today? We must open our hearts to the light of the Spirit, and ask for the grace to see any areas where we are holding back something for ourselves, maneuvering for our own advantage, or remaining in a superficial or merely external mode of obedience. Do we show up for Mass on Sunday without preparing as well as we can, simply because “we should”? In our interactions with others, are we thinking of our own wants and needs before those of others? Are our habits of mind and action simple courtesies or genuinely impelled and guided by charity?
Let us pray for the grace to allow Jesus full access to our hearts and minds, so that we can be transformed by his love and become the true images of God we are created to be.
Kathryn is married to Robert, mother of seven, grandmother to two, and a lay Carmelite. She has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and also as a writer and voice talent for Holy Family Radio. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and presenter, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, individual parishes, and Catholic ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Learn more at www.kathryntherese.com or on Facebook @summapax.