In this Sunday’s gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus counters familiar commandments with his own challenge; for example, “You shall not kill” becomes “You shall not even be angry”; You shall not commit adultery” becomes “You shall not even think about looking!” and “You shall not take a false oath” becomes “You shall not swear at all!” What’s going on here? The answer is contained in the first couple of lines: “I have not come to abolish [the law or the prophets], but to fulfill them.”
You see, I think we get ourselves into a lot of trouble trying to keep Jesus in the Old Testament. He not only came with a New Testament—He IS the New Testament. I have met people who think that an “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” is still the norm to follow—after all, “It’s in the Bible!” I’m shocked when I hear someone say something like that, because it totally ignores Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek” and to “give not only your shirt, but your cloak as well.” Here, in his new and improved way of living, Jesus is taking us beyond low-life vengeance to the generous New Testament spirit of healing and reconciliation.
More than once, I have been approached by zealots who would like me to post (usually to set in granite) the Ten Commandments in front of the Church. Each time, I have responded with “Not unless we also post Jesus’ Two Great Commandments, his Eight Beatitudes, and his Great Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”—and even then it would have to be taken up with our Pastoral Council.” (No one has ever returned to pursue the proposal.) Do you see where I am coming from on this? I take it as a solemn duty, as pastor, to keep us in the New Testament! If we only stayed with the famous “Ten,” we would be doing the absolute minimum: don’t lie, don’t kill…HELLO! St. Paul tried to teach us what it means to live Jesus’ fulfillment of the old law and the prophets when he preached “living the Spirit” and “rising above the law.” In other words, beyond “not killing,” we actually go out of our way to promote life—beyond “not lying,” we actually promote the embrace of truth.
Here’s the formula applied—OLD TESTAMENT: Arrest the killer(s). NEW TESTAMENT: Work for restorative justice that educates and heals, so the killing wouldn’t have happened in the first place. OLD TESTAMENT PSALM: “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.” NEW TESTAMENT VERSION: “Blessed are they who follow the Lord JESUS—his new way, his truth and his life.” I could never stress it enough, a true disciple knows the Old Testament—but lives in and for the NEW Testament. I have no time, let alone the desire, to cultivate and form run-amuck Sadducees and Pharisees. They are so 2000 years ago!