THE BEATITUDES AND JESUS’ ADVICE to His apostles serve as an introduction or exordium to the Sermon on the Mount. Now He enters the main part of His discourse, and discusses first the relation of His gospel to the Law which was given to the Jewish people through Moses. He is concerned not with the liturgical, civil, or criminal law, but with the basic moral precepts of the Old Law; and He at once makes clear that He has no intention of abrogating these. They are as permanent as our world. He is rather to perfect the Old Law: He will reestablish it independent of the superficial interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees; He will impose it as the moral law, not merely of the Jews, but of all mankind; He will show the prime importance of the commandment of charity, the love of God and one’s neighbor.
“Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall be lost from the Law till all things have been accomplished. Therefore whoever does away with one of these least commandments, and so teaches men, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever carries them out and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Restating the fifth commandment, He said:
“You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; and that whoever shall murder shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘Thou fool!’ shall be liable to the fire of Gehenna. Therefore, if thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Come to terms with thy opponent quickly while thou art with him on the way; lest thy opponent deliver thee to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen I say to thee, thou wilt not come out from it until thou hast paid the last penny.”
Similarly, He restated the sixth commandment, saying:
“You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that anyone who even looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“So if thy right eye is an occasion of sin to thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is better for thee that one of thy members should perish than that thy whole body should be thrown into hell. And if thy right hand is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off and cast it from thee; for it is better for thee that one of thy members should be lost than that thy whole body should go into hell.”
“It was said moreover, ‘Whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a written notice of dismissal.’ But I say to you that everyone who puts away his wife, save on account of immorality, causes her to commit adultery; and he who marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery.”
Restating the second commandment, He said:
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Thou shalt not swear falsely, but fulfill thy oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you not to swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; not by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither do thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be, ‘Yes, yes’; ‘No, no’; and whatever is beyond these comes from the evil one.”
The seventh commandment He also restated:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye,’ and, ‘A tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you not to resist the evildoer; on the contrary, if someone strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would go to law with thee and take thy tunic, let him take thy cloak as well; and whoever forces thee to go for one mile, go with him two. To him who asks of thee give; and from him who would borrow of thee, do not turn away.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do that? And if you salute your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do that? And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive in return, what merit have you? For even sinners lend to sinners that they may get back as much in return. But love your enemies; and do good, and lend, not hoping for any return, and your reward shall be great. Be merciful, therefore, even as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
Meditation: Murder had been wrong; Christ declared that even anger with another is against God’s will. Adultery had been wrong; Christ declared that even impure thoughts are against God’s will. Not just exterior actions, but interior thoughts and desires must conform to the will of God. One of the distinctive marks of Christ’s teaching was His emphasis on the hidden activities of each man’s soul. When I examine my conscience, do I look only for exterior faults, or do I check also my thoughts and desires? Hatred is a sin, whether or not my feelings are expressed in actions. Lustful thoughts contain the seeds of lust in action: “Anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 51-54. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.