In the opening line of today’s Gospel account from Matthew, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Jesus then went on to teach what he meant by that statement by following up with his six antitheses.
Upon first reading, Jesus may appear to be opposing, this is why these statements are labeled antitheses, the teachings passed down generation after generation from Moses. Jesus is doing no such thing. He is digging deeper to expose the root of each condition.
When Jesus recounts Moses’ prohibition against killing, he follows up by stating that we are not to give in to the temptation of anger or lashing out with derogatory words. By being more mindful and less reactive, we have a better chance of making more sound and rational statements. When we are more conscious of our thoughts we are more apt to respect the dignity of the person before us as well as ourselves and we are less likely to strike with anger or lash out with harsh words.
Jesus continues by stating the prohibition of committing adultery. Not only are we not to have sexual relations with someone else’s spouse, but we are also to resist the temptation of thinking about anyone in any lustful way. Again, Jesus is lifting up the dignity of the person. People are not to be objectified and lessened to mere carnal objects of satisfaction in thought or action.
Jesus then upholds the dignity and sacredness of marriage, recognizing that this is to be a covenantal relationship. There were some prescriptions for divorce to be valid just because the wife had cooked a bad meal. Jesus recognized that the reality of divorce, especially for the women in Jesus’ time, placed them in a very precarious position economically as well as socially. Not to mention the toll that the rupture of the relationship could cause. We can glean from Jesus that marriage represented the icon on earth of the divine trinitarian communion in heaven. Marriage is to be a sacrificial gift of love between husband and wife with the openness to bring forth life into the world.
The fourth antithesis presented in today’s account was the value of our word. What we say reveals something about our character. We are to resist saying what is expedient for the moment, as well as swearing false oaths to justify our false claims. Instead, we are to be honest and truthful in each situation such that our “‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and [our] ‘No’ mean ‘No'” (Mt 5:37).
In each of the four antitheses that we read about today, resisting not only murder but also anger and unleashing dehumanizing words, not only committing adultery but also remaining chaste in mind and heart, being faithful in marriage, and true to our word, Jesus calls his disciples to a higher standard of living. This is just as true for us today.
We are to resist giving in to the baser temptations or our fallen nature that is more self-serving at the expense of others and instead respect the dignity of those we are in a relationship with as well as those we encounter. This begins in our thoughts. For if we choose to be more mindful and less reactive and impulsive, we stand a much better chance of speaking about and acting better toward one another.
Unfortunately, the effects when we don’t are horrific. We can see examples of this all around us. Lowering the bar of these foundational principles is not the answer. For the seed of our words and actions spring forth from the roots of our thoughts.
Practicing the teachings of Jesus begins by acknowledging the value and relevance of them. We need to resolve with a deeper commitment and firmer intent to be more careful in how we engage in our thoughts, words, and actions, while at the same time understanding that on our own we will fall short. God is God and we are not. We need his support as well as the support of others. In this way, aligned with Jesus, we will become fully human as we fulfill the law and the prophets, by fulfilling the way of love.
Photo: Placing Jesus at the center of our lives made a big difference.