Sybil 2010

Gospel text

Matthew 5: 17-37

17 Do not think that I came to repeal the law and the prophets, these two great components of the Bible. I did not come to repeal, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I assure you, as long as heaven and earth do not disappear, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever rejects even one of the smallest commandments and teaches people to do the same, that person will be considered the smallest in the world of God. On the other hand, whoever does them and teaches them, this person will be considered great in the world of God. 20 For I tell you, if your moral code goes no further than that of the Bible scholars and the Pharisees, you will not enter the world of God.

21 You have heard what was said to the ancients: You shall not commit murder, and he who kills must be put on trial. 22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother must be put on trial. Anyone who calls his brother crazy, will have to stand trial. Anyone who calls him a lunatic will have to go through the dump fire. 23 If one day you bring your offering to the altar of animal sacrifices and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and run first to be reconciled with your brother, then after bring your offering. 25 Hurry and come to terms with your opponent while you are in communication, lest your opponent hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown in prison. 26 Truly I assure you, you will not go out from there until you have paid to the last cent. 27 You have heard that you will not commit adultery. But I say to you: whoever looks at a woman while coveting her, has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it off and throw it away from you. Because it is better for you to lose one of your members than to see your whole body thrown in the dump. 30 Likewise, if your right arm makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it away from you. Because it is better for you to lose one of your members than to see your whole body going to the dump. 31 It was said: If someone divorces his wife, let him give him a divorce note. 32 But I say to you: whoever divorces his wife - except in the case of sexual immorality - forces her to adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 Again, you heard what was said to the elders, You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord. 34 But I tell you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 nor by earth, for it is the footstool of his feet, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king, 36 neither by your head, for you are not able to make a single of your hair white or black. 37 So if it's yes, just say yes, if it's no, just say no. All that is added has its source in evil.


The law cannot solve the whole problem

Gospel commentary - Homily

Can Laws Be Dangerous?

One day James went to visit friends. It was past midnight when he decided to take the return route, a route of more than 200 miles: wisely, he had waited until he was sober after a meal. He was very tired, but the night was going to be calm. James drove scrupulously respecting the speed limits. But crossing a village, the horror: he inadvertently caught a cyclist he had not seen; had he driven too close to the shoulder, had he seen the bicycle reflectors poorly, had he dozed for a few seconds? He was too tired or asleep to confirm. Despite the shock, he consoled himself by saying to himself: I respected the speed limits and I was sober, so I have nothing to blame myself for.

We all know that what is legal is not necessarily morally right. Even more. The law can deceive us by maintaining us in a world of lies. Take an elected municipal official who gives juicy contracts to a single entrepreneur with whom he regularly plays golf and takes sumptuous meals at a restaurant, and has his personal house renovated at a lower cost, and this elected municipal official shouts from the rooftops that he did nothing illegal. The lie is to make us believe that we can keep our behavior, because it is legal. It is in this context that we will read today's Gospel.

Let's clarify Matthew's world right away. Biblical scholars agree that this Gospel is addressed to Christians of Jewish origin, and therefore to people of a religion with more than 600 laws which regulated their daily life. And there were these Pharisees, Orthodox Jews, who could discuss hours on plants bought at the market to determine on which one had to pay a tithing, and on which it was not necessary, a bit similar do discussions in the past on what was sin and what was not. What is Jesus saying? What he says may seem contradictory; on the one hand we read: "not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished", and on the other hand: "I did not come to repeal the law and the prophets, but to fulfill". What then is exactly the message of Jesus?

When we look at the life of Jesus, we realize that he has distanced himself from several Jewish laws, for example that relating to the Sabbath, yet a central element of the Mosaic law; he even reproaches his compatriots for using this law to avoid helping their neighbor. This distancing from the law continued in the early Christian communities where stormy debates took place between conservatives who wanted to keep Jewish traditions intact and people like Saint Paul who argued that they should not be forced to Christians of non-Jewish origin, for example circumcision, and emphasized Christian freedom. Behind this debate, Matthew, like any good Jew, feels a danger, that Christians of Jewish origin throw overboard any law, and therefore all their traditions, and thus find themselves without moral benchmarks. One can imagine the same situation in a pious Muslim to whom one would say: the Koran is finished; the mosque is over. Matthew is also the only evangelist to put in Jesus' mouth the statement that the law will remain and that whoever throws it in the trash himself deserves to be thrown in the trash. But in a second step, he puts things right by saying: those who threw the mosaic law overboard understood nothing, because Jesus came to propose a way of life that all these laws expressed maybe awkwardly, but which were in fact their ultimate aim. Let's take a closer look.

The law of murder, which requires not to kill, was in fact aimed at maintaining fraternal and cordial relations with others to the point that the quality of these relationships took precedence over all religious and liturgical requirements. The Adultery Act, which restricted a man to the possession of a single woman to counter polygamy, was in fact aimed at maintaining a true and sincere love of his spouse, a love with all his heart and all his body. The Divorce Act, which sought to protect women who find themselves on the street without support, by formalizing a divorce and allowing another man to marry her (Jewish law allowed only the man to divorce a spouse for any motive, including that of having spoiled a meal), was in fact aimed at maintaining an eternal love where two beings become only one flesh. The law on oaths, where you swore by someone or something dear that you will tell the truth, was in fact intended to maintain the value of a word that is always true.

We understand in this context the ambiguity of the law. Among the Pharisee fundamentalists, loyalty to the law, as is, maintained the lie of an authentic life before God. We live in a society where the laws are numerous and tend to multiply. It is normal for a legal society to mark out living together in this way. But the danger is to think that these laws are enough to make us authentic. And for someone who wants to be faithful to the Spirit poured out by Jesus, no law can ever frame the call to love.


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, November 2010