February 12, 2017
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Every legislative text, every norm carries within itself a precise vision of man, his own anthropology: rights, duties, obligations, principles, rules and punishments will be formulated according to the model of humanity that it intends to propose and reach. It is a very current issue which results in – for example – the debate on the great moral issues that involve all our societies.
The Sermon on the Mount we hear these Sundays refers us to Chapters 19-23 of Exodus: the Decalogue, and the laws that follow it, which are also called the Covenant Code. Referring to that important Old Testament text, in today’s Gospel, Jesus offers us his vision of man.
First, He went up the mountain (Mt 5:1), he began to speak to the crowds, and proposed a new model of humanity, which is glimpsed in the account of the Beatitudes. Then he added that this new humanity, that lives the Beatitudes, becomes a leaven of life and truth for all humanity: it is salt and light to the world.
Today, Jesus begins a long passage in which he is concerned to sketch a way so that this new man can accomplish the fullness of his humanity.
Jesus can do it. Jesus can give a law to man because He knows him and really knows what a man is. He knows what can help man to become more and more himself and, conversely, what distances and alienates him: He himself is the original model of man. For this reason he immediately says he has not come to destroy the law but to give him fulfillment. The first element of this new humanity that Jesus proposes is not a man without law, a man who dreams of being free without being obedient. Jesus knows that freedom is not for natural man, but for redeemed man, that is, man who lets himself humbly and daily return to a right relationship with God. For this reason, he goes on to say that the law is important: those who do not observe it, or trivialize or discredit it, are not only trivializing the law, they are trivializing man and, therefore, trivializing God himself.
Jesus, we said, continues his speech, and reinterprets the old law that God had given to Moses on Sinai. He rereads and reinterprets it according to his vision of man. What vision of man emerges from it?
We pause on two passages.
The first is where it says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 5:20).
The expression he uses to say “exceed” refers precisely something that abounds, that goes beyond, that does not stop at what is prescribed. In short, we think that the new law does not consist in observing impeccably some precepts (a thing that would be sufficient for the old law), but in assuming freely a style of life based on love. The new law cannot be based only on justice: it must lead to love. Justice here means fidelity and obedience to the will of God expressed in the law. And Jesus tells us that the new man lives a “righteousness that exceeds, superabounds,” for love. In the new Kingdom there is no justice without love.
Whoever meticulously observes a rule is a servant. Whoever takes the spirit of it and acts with creativity is a free man who does not use the law to tell that he has done enough, to be able to stop at a certain point, but knows how to detect in an event that occurs an invitation to go beyond his limits, his tastes, his own self.
What makes man the truly human is his ability to go beyond external observance, to enter into a space where the gratuitousness reigns.
The second passage on which we pause pertains to the following verses (Mt 5:21-37), where Jesus, revisits the commandments that see man in relationship. He says it is not enough not to kill, but neither to insult; not enough to refrain from committing adultery, but it’s necessary to avoid every connection with possession; it is not enough to avoid swearing falsely, but to be loyal. And thus he traces a new style of relationship, in which it is not enough to avoid doing wrong to another, but one comes to understand – and to live – that the other is part of me, that we are a unique body, one thing only. One has to love him.
These two steps are very enlightening on the vision of man offered to us by Jesus. We could say that for Jesus man is first and foremost a child of God, His image and so called to His own life in love: nothing less can perform fully his humanity.
And since man is the image of a God who is Trinity, then his fulfillment cannot but pass through the encounter with the other. Man is brother.
How is it possible to implement this model? Not straining oneself to observe a law, but accepting the gift of a new heart, the gift that God gives to those who live in the style of the beatitudes, to those who are not seeking only themselves in life.
One final note.
The passage that Jesus gives in verses 23-24 is very beautiful: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go first to reconcile yourself with your brother, and then come to offer your gift.”
To the new man, the new law, the new heart, also corresponds a new cult. In the old law the offer served to expiate sin. In the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus, reconciliation between brothers is the true offering, the true worship. Only where man is truly himself, where he fulfills the plan of God, where he is brother, there man can offer to God true worship and be in a good relationship with the Father. with the Father.
Original version in italian