(11th March): Ezekiel 18.21-28; Psalm 129; Matthew 5.20-26
Matthew’s Gospel seems deliberately to have been cast into five sections (plus a prologue and an epilogue), analogous to the five books of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament. The first of these sections (Chapters 3-7) has the Sermon on the Mount as its centrepiece, in which Jesus asserts that the Law (Torah) given to the chosen people of God has continuing significance in the nascent Christian community.
Today’s reading is Jesus’ elaboration of the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ The law’s purpose is not to make some people feel self-righteous while others feel themselves hopelessly condemned. Jesus goes to the depth of the law, and defines ‘killing’ as including a panorama of anger, contempt and character assassination. ‘You think you deserve God’s commendation because you’ve never killed anyone’, he seems to say. ‘Well, how about these kinds of killing? Which of you is innocent of all of these?’
If the Law is insufficient to make any of us righteous [Galatians 2.16] what hope does any of us have? St Paul says that our hope arises from the ‘faithfulness of Jesus’. His perfect (complete) obedience to the vocation of God for him reveals the inadequacy of our own response to God’s call. But at the same time Jesus’ faithful obedience makes up for the failures of humankind. What we do kills. What he does brings life.