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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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 1stcentury 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 inSayings 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).


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?

  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 isthe 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.

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 righteous 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:

  • Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12)
  • Jesus said them, “The Light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you.  Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light”(Jn 12:35-36)
  • I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness (Jn 12:46).

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?

  • Positive: A Christian and his faith community should be like a  city clearly visible on a mountain top, or like a lamp set on a stand that gives  light to the whole house just as a the righteous life and good deeds of  Christians witnessing the life of Christ in acts of love and charity that are  visible to all who know or observe that Christian or the works of the Christian  community.
  • Negative: A light put under a basket is a Christian or a faith  community that suppresses the Gospel and quenches the power of the Holy Spirit  within the community.  Such a Christian or community does not teach and  uphold the doctrine of the Church and works of charity in outward signs.   This person or community is not sharing the light of Christ and is doing nothing  to illuminate the darkness of those who have not heard the Gospel or who have  not seen Christians acting Christ-like.

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 loose “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.  20I 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 Hebrewyod, 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:

  • If anyone saith that Jesus Christ was given of God to men, as a Redeemer in whom to trust, and not also as a legislator whom to obey; let him be anathema (Dogmatic Canons and Decrees: The Council of Trent, “On Justification”, Canon XXI pg.54).
  • The Old Law is a preparation for the Gospel.  “The Law is a pedagogy and a prophecy of things to come.”  It prophesies and presages the work of liberation from sin which will be fulfilled in Christ: it provides the New Testament with images, “types,” and symbols for expressing the life according to the Spirit … (CCC 1964). 

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 palace 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?

  • Jesus will fulfill the purification rites of the Old Covenant.  For Old Covenant believers to touch someone who was ritually impure left them ritually impure, but when Jesus’ touches the sick or sinners or the dead He does not become impure, instead He purifies the impure.
  • Jesus will fulfill the old sacrificial system. Jesus purifies us and purges us of our sins through His perfect sacrifice on the Cross.  His perfect sacrifice eliminates the necessity of imperfect animal sacrifice necessary under the Old Covenant Law.

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 vowing 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 livingand 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 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 6thcentury BC Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer 31:3331-34 and Ez 36:25-27).

  • “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.  I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD.  All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34.
  • “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.  I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.”  Ezekiel 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.

  • John 3:3: [Jesus] “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
  • John 3:5-7 Jesus answered,  Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is born of flesh is flesh and who is born of spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I told you,  You must be born from above.’

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 intensives 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 raca.   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 Gehanna 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?

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.’  28But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already  committed adultery with her in his heart.  29If 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?

  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.” 

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 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.’   This is the way the meek and merciful peacemakers of the Beatitudes strike back  at their enemies “through God’s justice.  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 promise  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.

#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 command, 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 word 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.

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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

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