Having challenged the inadequate ‘virtue’ of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus shows how his teaching deepens the scriptural tradition of Jewish faith. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
Matthew 5:17-37 17
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. 18 I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. 19 Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 ‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. 21 ‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. 22 But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire.’
Other readings: Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20 Psalm 118 (119) 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
We continue reading from the first great speech of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s reading is very long, so only the first few verses are given here. You are invited to read the rest in your Bible. Jesus teaches that the ‘Law and the Prophets’, by which he means the scriptural tradition of Jewish faith, are to be cherished. Nevertheless, these traditions are to be ‘completed’ or ‘fulfilled’. The fulfilment brought by Jesus can be new and unexpected. Having challenged the inadequate ‘virtue’ or ‘righteousness’ of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus presents a new way. He gives six examples of how his teaching deepens the traditional teaching of the Jews. These pieces of teaching are sometimes described as ‘antitheses’. In them Jesus quotes the Jewish tradition and goes on to challenge it with the words ‘But I say this to you!’ The first challenge makes more radical the commandment ‘You must not kill’. For those called by Christ there are deeper demands. To hurl anger and insults at another is not the behaviour of a Christian. In the following verses Jesus will offer radical new understandings of other tenets of the Law. To hate one’s enemy may have been considered acceptable in the tradition, but in verse 44 Jesus says: ‘But I say this to you: Love your enemies!’
Am I ready to learn new things from the teaching of Jesus?
Do I cherish the teaching of the Law and the Prophets which prepared the way for Christ?
We pray for readiness to learn from the Scriptures and from the teaching of the Church.
We pray for a new attitude to those who have offended us.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy