Prayer Service




Sirach 1:15-20

Psalms 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34

1 Corinthians 2:6-10

Matthew 5:17-37

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues, although the gospel as presented to us appears more like a stream of consciousness than a well-defined sermon.  Indeed, it is not often that I do so, but the shorter form of the gospel allows us to focus more clearly on the very important teachings of Jesus enshrined in this portion of His Sermon on the Mount.

For a gospel written for a Jewish audience, Jesus’ assurance is unquestionably essential that His listeners should “not think that He has come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  If we listen carefully to the Old Testament readings proclaimed on most Sundays throughout the year [not during Easter time], we have a genuine sense of how Jesus’ teachings fulfill the prophets’ desire for justice, peace, harmony, and the establishment of the righteous Kingdom of God.

While there is nothing terribly surprising about Jesus’ stressing of ‘fulfillment’ rather than ‘replacement,’ the last sentence of our opening paragraph was sure to get His listeners’ attention: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This is the first volley of a theme which will carry on throughout the gospel, and which, as we know, will lead to Jesus’ death on a cross.  For the crowds that followed Jesus up the mountain, such strong words against these well respected sects of Judaism must have come as a shock.

Jesus, in fulfillment of the law and the prophets, wants His followers to do more than being concerned about outward appearances.  Being proud of not killing someone is not enough if one’s anger is frequently directed to all those around us!  Not committing adultery is not enough if our hearts are filled with lust for another!

Perhaps the last sentence of today’s gospel takes on added significance when one remembers that Jesus has just called His first disciples: “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’  Anything more is from the evil one.”  The followers of Jesus are meant to “make good to the Lord all that they vow.”  If we have vowed to follow in the footsteps of Jesus then we are to make every effort, in our daily lives, to behave and react the way we know Jesus would want us to act.  The beauty of the “WWJD” (“What Would Jesus Do?”) bracelets worn by many youth groups, is they serve as a constant reminder in the most ordinary circumstances to act as Jesus would have us act.  Yes, Jesus is never closer to us than He is in the Eucharist, but if our righteousness is going to surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, then our faith needs to be lived outside of Church and moments of deep prayer.  Our faith needs to be lived in the simple and ordinary moments of life – behind the wheel of a car, the uncomfortable or chance encounters with those we don’t care for, in the longer than average line at the supermarket, when our patience is tested, our love is challenged, and when our joy is stolen from us by the capricious moments of life – yes, it is in the ordinary moments of life that our faith is truly tested.  May we not fail the test, that our faith might surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees!

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