Scripture Study, Feb. 12, 2017

February 12, 2017 Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time

First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20

15If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do his will. 
16There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.  
17Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him.  
18Immense is the wisdom of the LORD; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.  
19The eyes of God see all he has made; he understands man’s every deed.  
20No man does he command to sin, to none does he give strength for lies.  

NOTES on First Reading:

* The sinner is fully responsible for his conduct because God, who sees all things, is not the author if wickedness; He gives to every man the liberty to choose between good and evil.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10

6Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.  
7Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,  
8and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  
9But 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,”  
10this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.  

NOTES on Second Reading:

* [2:6-3:4] Paul now asserts paradoxically what he has previously been denying. To the Greeks who “are looking for wisdom” (1 Cor 1:22), he does indeed bring a wisdom, but of a higher order and an entirely different quality, the only wisdom really worthy of the name. The Corinthians would be able to grasp Paul’s preaching as wisdom and enter into a wisdom-conversation with him if they were more open to the Spirit and receptive to the new insight and language that the Spirit teaches.

* [7-10a] God’s wisdom: his plan for our salvation. This was his own eternal secret that no one else could fathom, but in this new age of salvation he has graciously revealed it to us. For the pattern of God’s secret, hidden to others and now revealed to the Church, cf also Romans 11:25-36; 16:25-27; Eph 1:3-10; 3:3-11; Col 1:25-28.

* [8] The rulers of this age: this suggests not only the political leaders of the Jews and Romans under whom Jesus was crucified (cf Acts 4:25-28) but also the cosmic powers behind them (cf Eph 1:20-23; 3:10). They would not have crucified the Lord of glory: they became the unwitting executors of God’s plan, which will paradoxically bring about their own conquest and submission (1 Cor 15:24-28).

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:17-37

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
18Amen, 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.
19Therefore, 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. 14
20I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

21“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’
22But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.

23Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you,
24leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

25Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. 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.
26Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
28But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

29If 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.
30And 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.

31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’
32But 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.

33“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.’
34But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
35nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
36Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
37Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.

NOTES on Gospel Reading:

* [17-20] This statement of Jesus’ position concerning the Mosaic law is composed of traditional material from Matthew’s sermon documentation (see the note on Matthew 5:1-7:29), other Q material (cf Matthew 18; Luke 16:17), and the evangelist’s own editorial touches. To fulfill the law appears at first to mean a literal enforcement of the law in the least detail: until heaven and earth pass away nothing of the law will pass (Matthew 5:18). Yet the “passing away” of heaven and earth is not necessarily the end of the world understood, as in much apocalyptic literature, as the dissolution of the existing universe. The “turning of the ages” comes with the apocalyptic event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and those to whom this gospel is addressed are living in the new and final age, prophesied by Isaiah as the time of “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). Meanwhile, during Jesus’ ministry when the kingdom is already breaking in, his mission remains within the framework of the law, though with significant anticipation of the age to come, as the following antitheses (Matthew 5:21-48) show.

* [19] Probably these commandments means those of the Mosaic law. But this is an interim ethic “until heaven and earth pass away.”

* [21-48] Six examples of the conduct demanded of the Christian disciple. Each deals with a commandment of the law, introduced by You have heard that it was said to your ancestors or an equivalent formula, followed by Jesus’ teaching in respect to that commandment, But I say to you; thus their designation as “antitheses.” Three of them accept the Mosaic law but extend or deepen it (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28; 43-44); three reject it as a standard of conduct for the disciples (Matthew 31-32; 33-37; 38-39).

* [21] Cf Exodus 20:13; Deut 5:17. The second part of the verse is not an exact quotation from the Old Testament, but cf Exodus 21:12.

* [22-26] Reconciliation with an offended brother is urged in the admonition of Matthew 5:23-24 and the parable of Matthew 5:25-26 (Luke 12:58-59). The severity of the judge in the parable is a warning of the fate of unrepentant sinners in the coming judgment by God.

* [22] Anger is the motive behind murder, as the insulting epithets are steps that may lead to it. They, as well as the deed, are all forbidden. Raqa: an Aramaic word reqa’ or reqa probably meaning “imbecile,” “blockhead,” a term of abuse. The ascending order of punishment, judgment (by a local council?), trial before the Sanhedrin, condemnation to Gehenna, points to a higher degree of seriousness in each of the offenses. Sanhedrin: the highest judicial body of Judaism. Gehenna: in Hebrew ge-hinnom, “Valley of Hinnom,” or ge ben-hinnom, “Valley of the son of Hinnom,” southwest of Jerusalem, the center of an idolatrous cult during the monarchy in which children were offered in sacrifice (see 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31). In Joshua 18:16 (Septuagint, Codex Vaticanus) the Hebrew is transliterated into Greek as gaienna, which appears in the New Testament as geenna. The concept of punishment of sinners by fire either after death or after the final judgment is found in Jewish apocalyptic literature (e.g., Enoch 90:26) but the name geenna is first given to the place of punishment in the New Testament.

* [27] See Exodus 20:14; Deut 5:18.

* [29-30] No sacrifice is too great to avoid total destruction in Gehenna.

* [31-32] See Deut 24:1-5. The Old Testament commandment that a bill of divorce be given to the woman assumes the legitimacy of divorce itself. It is this that Jesus denies. (Unless the marriage is unlawful): this “exceptive clause,” as it is often called, occurs also in Matthew 19:9, where the Greek is slightly different. There are other sayings of Jesus about divorce that prohibit it absolutely (see Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; cf 1 Cor 7:10, 11b), and most scholars agree that they represent the stand of Jesus. Matthew’s “exceptive clauses” are understood by some as a modification of the absolute prohibition. It seems, however, that the unlawfulness that Matthew gives as a reason why a marriage must be broken refers to a situation peculiar to his community: the violation of Mosaic law forbidding marriage between persons of certain blood and/or legal relationship (Lev 18:6-18). Marriages of that sort were regarded as incest (porneia), but some rabbis allowed Gentile converts to Judaism who had contracted such marriages to remain in them. Matthew’s “exceptive clause” is against such permissiveness for Gentile converts to Christianity; cf the similar prohibition of porneia in Acts 15:20, 29. In this interpretation, the clause constitutes no exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful.

* [33] This is not an exact quotation of any Old Testament text, but see Exodus 20:7; Deut 5:11; Lev 19:12. The purpose of an oath was to guarantee truthfulness by one’s calling on God as witness.

* [34-36] The use of these oath formularies that avoid the divine name is in fact equivalent to swearing by it, for all the things sworn by are related to God.

* [37] Let your `Yes’ mean `Yes,’ and your `No’ mean `No’: literally, “let your speech be ‘Yes, yes,’ ‘No, no.’ ” Some have understood this as a milder form of oath, permitted by Jesus. In view of Matthew 5:34, “Do not swear at all,” that is unlikely. From the evil one: i.e., from the devil. Oath-taking presupposes a sinful weakness of the human race, namely, the tendency to lie. Jesus demands of his disciples a truthfulness that makes oaths unnecessary.

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