Today’s gospel comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which is a collection of the teachings of Jesus, grouped by Matthew as though they were given on one occasion. We must never forget that Jesus was a devout Jew and he made it clear that he had not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it. In the Beatitudes he had described people who truly loved God and their neighbour. Those who paid lip-service to the Law, obeying it punctiliously but not honouring it in their hearts, Jesus described as “whitened sepulchres” (Matt 23:27), pristine on the outside but rotten within.
He wanted to explore the deep meaning of the Law and its value with his followers. They needed to reflect on the attitudes and mindset that led to the sins of murder and adultery, for example.
The Law had provided guidelines for God’s chosen people as to how to live in communion with him and one another. It was not regarded as a burden but a gift. Jesus wanted to restore this spirit. St Paul, a Pharisee and deeply learned in the Mosaic Law, after his vision on the way to Damascus placed Christ crucified at the centre of his teaching. He preached that we are saved by faith in Jesus and our relationship with him encompasses the Law.