13 June 2024 -- Thursday of the 10th week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 18:41-46; Matthew 5:20-26


This Gospel is taken from the section of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus shows what the completely new character of the New Law consists in. ‘You have learned...; I tell you...’ he repeats several times.

Our first impression may be that Jesus is simply making some amendments to the Constitution of Israel or revising the Old Testament Code of Canon Law, just as we periodically amend our own legislation.

However, if we study Jesus' words carefully, we realise that he is demanding a much more radical change from his listeners. It is not a change in the law, but in the relationship to the law - a change that requires a conversion of the heart, not of the law. Jesus did not establish a new legalism that was more demanding than that of the Pharisees; He replaced the demands of legalism with the much greater demands of love. He did not establish a new and more rigorous justice; He taught the demands of love, which go far beyond what strict justice can demand.

In our time, we have realised that we were not collectively respecting the rights of various sectors of society, and so we have published various charters affirming the rights of women, for example, or of children, or of the disabled, etc.   All this is important and even necessary. But as long as we respect the new rights in the same way as we respected the old codes, we are still living under the Old Testament, and we risk ending up with a lot of injustice.

Human justice consists in respecting the various rights as they have been established by the conventions of a particular society. So, for example, in a culture where slavery was part of the structure of society, as it was in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ and St Paul, justice consisted in balancing the rights of the slave owner against his obligations to the slaves he owned. The slaves had no rights. In a capitalist society, justice consists in respecting the balance between the rights of the owners of capital and those of the workers who make that capital grow through their labour. In a socialist society, justice consists in respecting the balance established in that particular society between the rights of the state and those of the individuals who are its members. In each case, it is easy to end up with permanent forms of oppression, even when none of the legal rights have been infringed.

Jesus does not try to specify any of these rights. Instead, he tells us: don't stay at that level. If justice demands that you give up your coat, give up your shirt too. If justice gives you the right to demand an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, simply forgive the person who has offended or harmed you. If the code of moral behaviour forbids you to do a certain number of things such as, for example, take your neighbour's wife, I ask you to watch even the desires of your heart.

This new teaching of Jesus about the law is a source of great insecurity - a very healthy insecurity. If being ‘good’ means not committing adultery, not killing, not demanding more than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, not missing Mass on Sundays... I can easily feel secure. I can periodically check whether I am ‘good’ or not. And if I have sinned, I know exactly when, where and how. This gives me a great sense of security. This is the security of the Pharisees. Yet Jesus said, ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’

But if being faithful to Jesus' call consists in purity of intention, in loving my enemy; if it consists in always giving more than is asked of me, in repairing the relationship between myself and my brothers when it is broken - then I live in that blessed and constant insecurity which consists in the awareness of always being called to something much more than what I am at present and what I am doing. Insecurity is then synonymous with poverty.

It is with this poverty of heart, in the attitude of children still staggering, learning to walk, that we will now approach the altar, finding a very authentic security, not in our own justice, which we are aware we do not have, but in God's justice, knowing that he is rich in mercy and compassion.

Armand Veilleux