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Commentary to the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A

Fernando Armellini - Sat, Feb 11th 2023


The Jews call the first five books of the Bible the Law. A surprising way to call a collection that contains rules, precepts, and commands but is not a code of law as we know it today. It is an exciting story, a love story between Israel and her God. It begins with the creation of the world and continues with the call of Abraham, the stories of the patriarchs, the slavery in Egypt, and the Exodus. A genuinely original Law!

In truth, the term ‘Law’ does not exactly translate the Hebrew word ‘Torah’ that is derived from the root word iarah. It indicates the act of shooting an arrow to show the direction. Even on the road, we orient ourselves by following ‘arrows’ signage. The Torah traces the path that leads to life. It does not dictate cold, rigid, impersonal norms. It tells what happened to a people, Israel, the bride being sometimes faithful, more often than not unfaithful to her Lord. With its joys and misadventures, successes and failures, feasts and grief, it reflects each person’s story: the dangers to be avoided and the wise decisions to make.

The Torah revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, however, was not the final Word of God. On the Mount of the Beatitudes, Jesus has recognized its validity, but, considering only one phase, he indicated a new goal, a more distant and boundless horizon: the perfection of the Father who is in heaven. The one who does not practice the new justice, vastly superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, stops halfway and does not enter into the Kingdom of God.

To internalize the message, we repeat: “Show me, O Lord, the way of life, I will follow to the end.”


First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing. The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man’s every deed. No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.


“If you see a wise person follow him from daybreak and let your feet beat a pathway to his door” (Sir 6:36). This sentence could have been inscribed at the school entrance that was opened in Jerusalem by Ben Sirach between the end of the third century and the beginning of the second century B.C. To the young disciples who sat at his feet and, on the other hand, felt attracted by the enticing proposals of the Hellenistic world and were fascinated by the lure of pagan life, he showed the path of life, teaching the Torah, the wisdom of God.

Ben Sirach was also a poet. The Torah was for him “like a cedar of Lebanon, a cypress tree upon the mountains of Hermon, a palm in Engedi, delicious as the rose of Jericho.” He savored the aroma, “as cinnamon and balm, like choice myrrh.” He saw the wisdom coming out of her roll and spillover “as the Jordan in the days of harvest” (Sir 24:13-24).

Enchanted by the beauty of God’s law, he conveyed his passion to the students. He taught them: “In front of each man are life and death, fire and water.” Each must choose. Every person is free and responsible for their actions. He can construct or ruin his existence. If he makes an erratic decision, the fault is not with God, who has made all things well, but with him.

There is no inner compulsion to sin. People can control their instincts (Sir 21:11), desires and passions (Sir 20:30). If anyone does evil or deviates from the path traced by the Torah, they bring woe and misfortune to themselves (Sir 40:10), but if they follow the path indicated by the Lord, they will have life and be blessed. Thus taught Ben Sirach, the wise old man eager to guide his children and his disciples on the path traced by the Law of God.


Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10

Brothers and sisters: We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.


In Corinth, some took pride in their faith. To show it off publicly, they resorted to wisdom and preached the Gospel with a subtle reasoning, as would a philosopher. Paul judges these people harshly. He says that those who behave in this way have not yet realized that the proposal of faith is madness from a human point of view. It is an invitation to become disciples of an executed man. Only the ‘crazy ones’ can risk their lives by accepting his proposal. Then only those who are ‘crazier’ may decide to become his messenger and knight. To be clear, there is nothing irrational in the Christian faith, nothing repugnant to reason, but undoubtedly the proposal of giving your own life for it clashes with common sense.

There is, however—Paul continues—a “Christian wisdom,” “not of this world” of course, but in the world of God, a wisdom that can only be understood by the “perfect ones,” that is, by “mature Christians” (v. 6).

The apostle has just said that he had presented himself to the Corinthians “in weakness and in much fear and trembling” devoid of the wisdom that abounds in the persuasive talk of the philosopher (1 Cor 2:3-4). He now ranks himself among those scholars who have received, through the Spirit, a special revelation of the mysteries of God (v. 10).

What is it about? It is called “divine wisdom, mysterious, that remained hidden, which none of the rulers of this world has known” (vv. 7-8). In other letters, it is simply called ‘mystery,’ a kept secret over the ages, but now revealed (Rom 16:25-26), “a mystery hidden for ages” (Col 1:26). It is the divine plan of universal salvation. From all eternity, this project was known to God alone, and no one could imagine what wonders he was preparing.

Now that the revelation is rolling out, the ‘mystery’ can be contemplated in its progressive unfolding. Peter says that the angels themselves keep their eyes on the world in heaven, eager to see and enjoy what God is doing (1 P 1:12). The author of the letter to the Ephesians revisits the same touching idea. The angels—he says—discover the mystery of God observing what is happening in the Church: “Even the heavenly forces and powers will now discover through the Church the wisdom of God in its manifold expression” (Eph 3:10).

What God does, transcends the wishes and hopes of people. By adopting a verse from the book of Isaiah (Is 64:3), Paul describes the surprise that awaits those who are fortunate enough to be able to analyze this mystery: “Eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has it dawned on the mind of what God has prepared for those who love him” (v. 9).


Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife—unless the marriage is unlawful—causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”


“We are fortunate, O Israel, for we know what pleases the Lord!” (Bar 4:4). Thus Baruch expressed the pride of his people and his gratitude to the Lord who had taught Israel the “ways of Wisdom” (Bar 3:27), in the Torah, in the “book of the commands of God” (Bar 4:1).

As a work of God, the Torah cannot be refuted or contradicted. “The Scripture is always true,”—said Jesus (Jn 10:35). God cannot have second thoughts or deny what he has said in the past or make corrections. The path he has traced from the Old Testament has an everlasting validity. In the first phase of today’s Gospel, Jesus reiterates this truth: “Do not think that I have come to annul the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to annul them but to fulfill them” (v. 17).

If he feels the need to clarify his position, it means that someone has had the impression that he, through his behavior and his own words, is demolishing the same beliefs, expectations, and hopes of Israel based on sacred texts.

Jesus was respectful of the laws and institutions of his people. However, he initially interpreted them. His point of reference was not the letter of the law but the good of the person. For the love of the people, he did not hesitate to break even the Sabbath. His freedom aroused astonishment, perplexity, and irritation even among the religious authorities. However, more than his failure to comply with the requirements of the rabbis, what created confusion was his message, the new Torah. He had proclaimed on the mountain a Torah that upset the principles and values ??on which Israel's religious and civil institution was based.

Moses had promised: “All the nations of the earth shall fear you: The Lord will fill you with all kinds of good things; he will put you at the head of the nations and not at the tail” (Deut 28:10-13). How could Jesus claim to be in harmony with the Old Testament when he proclaimed the poor, the persecuted, and the oppressed to be blessed and warned his followers that they faced difficulty, suffering and persecution? His message was in sharp contrast with the Scriptures.

Reading the prophets, Israel was convinced that the Messiah would establish an everlasting, glorious kingdom. He would give “to the afflicted of Zion a crown of glory instead of ashes” while for the enemies would enact a “day of vengeance of our God” (Is 61:2-3). In the most dramatic moments in its history, Israel found in these promises a reason to continue to believe and hope in a better future. Why did Jesus upset these expectations?

Here is how he clarifies his position: the promises made by God will all come true; not even one of them will fail. Before the world ends, what was written will be fulfilled, but unexpectedly. The surprise will be so great that even the pious, devout, sincere people, like John the Baptist, will run the risk of seeing their faith waver and remain in shock (Mt 11:6).

These sayings of Jesus must be understood in this light. They conclude the first part of today’s Gospel concerning the observance of even the minimal precepts of law and justice, which is superior to the scribes and Pharisees (vv. 19-20). The statutes referred to are not the ones of the old law but the Beatitudes. These Beatitudes are the new proposal, the new justice that leads to fulfillment and brings the old one to perfection, that which the scribes and Pharisees practiced, even though admittedly in an exemplary manner.

As in the old law practice, some were satisfied with fidelity to the most important precepts and neglected others. In complying with the proposal of the Beatitudes, some adhere to the minimum (admire, approve, support those who dare to do them). Some are entirely consistent and make courageous and firm decisions. In the eyes of God—Jesus declares, with some humor—the first ones will appear as ‘the least,’ the others will be judged great and will be considered ‘rabbis’ in the kingdom of heaven. They will be people held up as models to other disciples.

In the second part of the Gospel (vv. 20-37), four examples of the leap forward, required of all those who want to enter the kingdom of heaven are presented. These are found in the Old Testament and are not refuted but explained in an original way. Jesus highlights all the implications. He starts from the Torah of Moses—the point of arrival, the summit reached by the ‘righteousness’ of the scribes and Pharisees—and goes beyond, offering the ultimate goal of this Law.

The Gospel puts forward six examples, but today’s reading only looks at four. The other two will be dealt with next Sunday. They are all introduced with the same stereotyped formula: “You have heard that God has said to the ancestors … now I tell you….” 

Do not kill! (vv. 21-26). It is the first case considered. It is an explicit provision that admits no exceptions. It condemns any form of killing (Gen 9:5-6). A person has no power over the lives of others, even if the other is a criminal (Gen 4:15). Human life is sacred and inviolable from the moment it blooms until, of course, it ends. This was already clear in the ancient Torah, but to enter into the kingdom of heaven, it is necessary to understand that not killing involves much more. There are other subtle, sophisticated, covert, and disguised ways of killing.

If there were X-rays capable of detecting the cemetery of our heart, we would be startled. Among the dead, we would find those to whom we have sworn not to speak, those to whom we have denied forgiveness, those we have continued to accuse falsely, those whose good name we have destroyed by gossip or slander, those whom we have deprived of love and the joy of living.

Jesus teaches that the commandment that orders us not to kill has many implications that go well beyond physical assault. One who uses offensive words gets angry, nourishes sentiments of hatred that have already destroyed their brother/sister (v. 22).

Murder always begins in the heart. We cannot hate a person and continue to feel at peace with ourselves. We cannot kill if we are not convinced we are dealing with a human being who does not deserve to live and must be eliminated. This cruel decision is arrived at by continually repeating the words: ‘He is a fool,’ ‘he is crazy,’ ‘he is Godless.’ So we come without remorse to pronounce the sentence: he deserves ‘the stake.’

And this is an unjust and cruel heart—Jesus teaches—that must be disarmed. He pits the demonizing work of a human being against his judgment: he is a brother. Three times he repeats this word (vv. 22-24) as an antidote to heal the heart from the poison of hatred, kept alive and increased by demeaning comments. Then he addresses the root of the conflict; he introduces the theme of reconciliation.

It appeals, first, to its need and importance (vv. 23-24). The cue is taken from a religious practice of Israel. Before entering the temple to offer sacrifice, it was necessary to undergo a painstaking purification process. Jesus declares that it is not the body that needs to be pure, but the heart. Reconciliation with brother/sister replaces all the rites of purification.

The rabbis taught that the most important Jewish prayer—Shema Israel—once started, could not be interrupted for any reason, even if a snake twisted itself around the leg of the praying person. Jesus says that to reconcile with brother/sister, we even must stop in the middle, not only of the Shema Israel but even the offering of sacrifice in the temple. It is hard to find a more compelling image to emphasize the importance of reconciliation in the Jewish culture. Those who reject it, who do not even look for it, exclude themselves from the ‘kingdom of heaven.’

The early Christians had assimilated this lesson well. The author of the letter to the Ephesians recommended: “Do not let your anger last until the end of the day” (Eph 4:26). A few years before, in the young community of Antioch in Syria, this provision had been issued: ‘In the day of the Lord, who is at odds with his neighbor cannot join you until they have reconciled so that your sacrifice may not be defiled’ (Didache 14:1-2). Two centuries later, a bishop of the same region exhorted his brothers in these words: ‘Pronounce your judgments on Monday so that, having time till Saturday, you may resolve the disagreement (between the members of your community) and for Sunday to reconcile those who are at odds with each other’ (Didascalia 2, 59, 2).

After recalling the need for reconciliation, Jesus emphasizes its urgency (vv. 25-26). It cannot be deferred. A Christian should never resort to the courts for justice. He should always be able to agree first with his brother. However, if he prefers to litigate rather than endure injustice, let him keep in mind that God will not recognize him as a son if he presents himself to God in disagreement with his brother. The sharp images of a prison, guards, and the obligation to pay the last penny should not materialize. They are typical of Semitic culture and rabbinic language. They are introduced only to make an energetic introduction to the imperative of reconciliation. To obtain it, the disciple must be willing to renounce anything.

After speaking of the commandment not to kill, Jesus goes to the issue of adultery (vv. 27-30). The letter of the Torah seemed to prohibit only illicit actions. Jesus, as he usually does, goes to the heart of the matter and captures the deepest requirements of this commandment. There are friendships, feelings, relationships that are already adulterous. We are in a field where, with much ease, we are overwhelmed by instinct and passion that can cause great woe to ourselves, our own family, and those of others. Jesus insists that courage is needed to cut through pain in certain situations before passionate desires become adulterous.

Two parts of the body need to be amputated: the right eye and the right hand. In this context, they are the symbols of what awakens lust (eyes) and dangerous contact (hand). It is a must to be ready to renounce all that popular opinion considers enriching experience, a rewarding achievement or opportunity not to be missed [the right side was considered the noblest, the favorite (Ps 137:5)], but not to ruin life. This is not bodily mutilation, but grueling self-control, which Paul speaks about: “I punish my body and control it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be rejected” (1 Cor 9:27).

Gehenna is the valley that borders the southwest of the city of Jerusalem. It was the city's garbage dump, the cursed place where babies had been sacrificed and burned to the god Moloch. It was believed that there was a door there that led to the world of demons. Those who cannot impose on themselves the necessary discipline in sexuality run the risk of throwing the whole body (person) into Gehenna (garbage). This is not a punishment from God but the consequence of sin.

The third case concerns divorce (vv. 31-32). God wanted monogamous and indissoluble marriage. From its first pages, the Bible clearly states that “The two form one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Because of the hardness of the human heart, divorce was also introduced in Israel. Going against the custom, tradition, and interpretation of the rabbis, Jesus brings marriage to its original purity and excludes the possibility of separating what God has determined to remain united. The clause "except for marital unfaithfulness,” which seems to leave open a divorce case, actually concerns illegitimate and irregular unions. Neither infidelity nor misunderstanding or any other difficulty between the couple can legitimize a new matrimony. Jesus defines any union of this kind as adultery, a stain that a good confession cannot wash away. It is to choose death.

The disciple should be careful because the current mentality of permissiveness, trivialization of sexuality, and licentiousness in moral behavior can easily make us forget the words of the Master. ‘The wisdom of this world’ can shake even the most solid belief by presenting, as usual, humanizing and appreciable what is merely palliative, makeshift and expedient.

It is not loyal; it does not render good service to those in trouble, who conceal the demands of Christian morality or obligingly propose cohabitation, which may tend to lead to painful inner conflict. We should never forget the renunciation, sacrifice, the cross, and also the heroism of virginity of those who, as Jesus said, “…are eunuchs who have chosen to remain so for the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12).

However, the precise words of Jesus did not give any of the disciples a license to judge, condemn, humiliate, or marginalize those who have failed in their married life. It is about, in general, people who have gone through great suffering and have experienced dramatic situations. For them, the Christian project of marriage reveals itself at a time when it is impossible to fulfill. The community is called to express to them the tenderness and understanding of the Master who did not extinguish a smoldering wick or break the bruised reed (Is 42:3).

The fourth case is that of the oath (vv. 33-37). During the exile in Babylon, the Israelites had taken on swearing inappropriately, among other bad habits. They came to the point of not making a statement without accompanying it with a curse. To avoid pronouncing the name of God, they resorted to the less demanding formula: they swore by heaven, by the temple, by the earth, by their parents, by their heads. A sage of the second century B.C. recommended: “Do not get used to swearing, taking the name of the Holy One” (Sir 23:9).

Jesus takes a stand against this reckless habit, and he does it with his usual radicalism. “Do not swear at all … But let your speech be ‘Yes’ when it is ‘yes,’ ‘No’ when it is ‘no,’ the rest comes from the evil one” (vv. 33-37).

It was not so much the desecration of the name of the Lord that worried him. Other elements make an oath unacceptable. First, it assumes a pagan concept of God, imagined as an avenger, ready to hurl thunderbolts against liars and perjurers. Then it is a symptom of a society dominated by shyness, mistrust, disloyalty, and mutual suspicion.

In the community of the disciples of Jesus, the oath is inconceivable because it is made ??up of “pure-hearted” (Mt 5:8) people, guided by the spirit of truth (Jn 14:17; 16:13). They ban from their life every lie—as recommended by Paul—“give up lying; let all speak the truth to our neighbor for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25; 1P 2:1).


READ: Whoever obeys the commandments and teaches others to do the same will be great in the kingdom of heaven.

REFLECT: God reveals His wisdom and love through the Law. Following and living the commandments manifest how mature we are as Christians.

PRAY: We praise God by following His Law faithfully. We pray to be constantly obedient to His will like Jesus.

ACT: Let us find new meaning in living according to the commandments. Let us discover new ways to be faithful to them.

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