Life & Soul

St Paul’s answer to our frustrations

The Sermon on the Mount (1598), by Jan Brueghel the Elder

Sixth Sunday of the Year
Eccls 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37 (Year A)

“Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them, but to complete them.”

For Israel, the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament represented both the revelation of God’s saving will and the path that would ensure its fulfilment. Therefore Jesus insisted that his own ministry, far from replacing all that had gone before, must be understood as its completion and perfection.

As Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, we understand this perfection as a call to reach beyond a shallow and superficial devotion to God’s will. We are invited to an inner renewal that strives for perfect communion with the God who has called us to himself. Jesus warned his followers against the compromises that can so easily undermine our best intentions: “For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes or the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus reinforced this warning with a series of contrasts between outward compliance and his more penetrating demand for the surrender of mind and heart to God: “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill. But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.”

As sinners, we are constantly reminded of the gulf between what we profess, and what we do and think. St Paul recognised this same contradiction within himself:

“I cannot understand my own behaviour. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate. In my inmost self I dearly love God’s Law. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?”

With Paul, let us bring such frustration to the Father in prayer. Let us receive, and believe in, the Spirit that he has entrusted to us. “The Spirit that you have received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again: it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out: Abba, Father.”

It was in the power of that same Spirit that Jesus invited his disciples to become perfect, “as your heavenly Father is perfect”.