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The difference of man from the rest of creation is our rationality and freedom. This means that we were given the gifts of intellect, reason and the capacity to choose.
Because animals, plants and inanimate objects do not have those gifts, they follow the dictates of nature we call natural law. Even if we say that some animals have intelligence, they are only guided by instinct. Because of our rationality, we are guided by a higher law called the moral natural law. With this power given to us, we are the only ones who exercise responsibility over our actions.
Early on, two Sundays ago, we heard about the Beatitudes which is part of the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus. Our gospel today is the start of the main part of the Sermon on the Mount. It is basically about the extended explanation of the 5th and the 6th Commandments, ‘Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not commit adultery”. But since they are discussed in the context of the Sermon on the Mount after the beatitudes, they revolve around the Matthean theme of perfection; “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.”
The Scribes and the Pharisees were the masters of the Law of Moses which was the foundation of the Jewish belief in God. When Jesus started his preaching, he had to take a stand, that is he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets which stand for the Old Testament but rather to fulfill them. When Jesus came, he gave us a new understanding of the law in contrast to the teaching of the Pharisees. The Pharisees distinguished between small and big commandments; for Jesus there was no such classification since laws are the expressions of God’s will. Out of the 10 Commandments, the Pharisees made 613 positive and negative laws; Jesus summarized them into two commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. The Pharisees were concerned about the letter of the law while Jesus was on the spirit of the law.
That is why we are reminded by our gospel today to surpass the pharisaical way of understanding the law: “Unless your justice surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”
Maybe none of us are murderers. But if we listen to the spirit of the law, how many among us are harboring hatred against a friend or a family member. Yes, we may not have murdered them physically but long time ago, we already murdered them in our hearts. Sometimes we are not at peace because that splinter thrusts through our heart that causes tremendous pain on us. That is why, the offertory procession during the mass always reminds us that if we are not at peace with someone else, our sacrifice is futile, it is empty. It is useless unless we reconcile first to the person whom we have murdered in our hearts.
Maybe none of us have committed adultery. We hate to see rapists in the news or in TV. We are scandalized in the many sexual abuses in the wide spectrum of our society. Most of the times, we are outsiders looking inside. Our gospel today reminds us that the evil intention in our hearts against somebody is tantamount of committing adultery. A lustful thought or an unbecoming desire can breed the adulterers among us.
When we hear these things maybe most of us are guilty in one way or another. If we are not, there is no point of making ourselves proud because anytime our hearts can betray us.
When we listen to the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, he is just saying this to us: “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.” Being children of our Father, we will strive to be like him because that’s who we are.