The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart- Thursday- 10th Week in ordinary time-Matthew 5: 20-26

Jesus has clearly taught the disciples that identity comes before behaviour. The identity of a disciple is to be the salt and light of the world. Having done that, Jesus now gives His disciples an understanding on behaviour. These are found in the six hyper-theses in the Sermon on the Mount and today’s gospel is the first of them.

What is the point that Jesus wants to make? He wants His disciples to go beyond the law of the Old Testament by deepening and radicalizing it to the original will of God. However, He never moves them in a lax direction; rather Jesus moves us to more, and hence they are called hyper-theses (JBC).

Perhaps it was the mind of Jesus to rectify the inadequate interpretation of the law as interpreted by the Scribes and Pharisees. So His first example is taken from the sixth commandment, “thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Remember that Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to deepen it and so while He does not diminish the law on homicide He went beyond it. He takes up the more subtle manifestation of the behaviour that leads to homicide; behaviour that we perhaps live out each day. It is in anger, insult and name calling that Jesus sees the potential seeds of murder.

For Jesus, the essence of murder is when we begin to regard another’s life as useless. The Scribes and Pharisees believed that they were guiltless of such a crime as long as they did not shed the blood of another human. In doing this they missed the spirit of the law. Jesus sends His listeners in a tizzy when He takes the same penalty for murder and applies it to anger and careless words.

Perhaps the English translation of the Bible does not do the original Greek and Aramaic justice. So in English the words ‘angry’, ‘insult’ or ‘fool’ don’t seem to sound as serious as the original Greek or Aramaic, which also conveys the contempt or motivation behind the words.

The meaning of ‘insult’ or ‘raca’ in Aramaic was an indifference that was expressed in calling one’s brother, ‘empty headed’. The root of this word raka was ‘reqa’; meaning, to spit. In other words what one brother was calling the other brother was, ‘you little piece of spit.’ Or for that matter, the word fool in Greek is ‘moros’. This word from where we get the English ‘moron’ was not so much calling someone a name as much as it was a derogatory statement.

What is Jesus’ radical solution? Simply this – go beyond the law. Murderous thoughts begin in little ways, like anger and contempt and name calling. We don’t see this as gravely sinful, but it is and even more; it has the potential to take us down the road we never intended to walk. Nothing just happens! Everything begins from somewhere and Jesus wants us to keep in check the small things as much as we would avoid the big things.

The solution of Jesus is “leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled to your brother or sister.” For the Jew, there was nothing more important than sacrifice and worship. For Jesus, what is more important is the condition of the heart. There is a clear priority of ethics over cult for true worship of God that demands justice. For Jesus, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.

Fr Warner D’Souza
References from the Jerome’s Biblical Commentary


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