21 'You have heard how it was said to our ancestors, You shall not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court.
22 But I say this to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will answer for it before the court; anyone who calls a brother "Fool" will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and anyone who calls him "Traitor" will answer for it in hell fire.
23 So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.
25 Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.
26 In truth I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.
27 'You have heard how it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
28 But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
29 If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell.
30 And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell.
31 'It has also been said, Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal.
32 But I say this to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of an illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 'Again, you have heard how it was said to our ancestors, You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord.
34 But I say this to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God's throne;
35 or by earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great King.
36 Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black.
37 All you need say is "Yes" if you mean yes, "No" if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the Evil One.
I have always felt sorry for preachers faced with today’s gospels. Jesus seems to be insisting on standards of morality that are way above what we can ordinarily handle in everyday life. And in one sense the bar has been raised here to a considerable height. Yet, if we look at the other readings for today from Corinthians and Ecclesiasticus then the message comes into focus. In Ecclesiasticus we hear:
If you choose, you will keep the commandments and so be faithful to his will.
16 He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer.
17 A human being has life and death before him; whichever he prefers will be given him.
... ‘Whichever we prefer will be given to us...’ This seems to be the key for unlocking the whole meaning of today’s readings. Our desire will create our destiny. From this perspective Jesus’ teaching reveals itself as a lesson in the education of desire. As you will know from my postings in India I am interested at the moment in the Hindu and Buddhist notions of ‘fields of personality’. We could apply this to Jesus’ teaching here and see that we create, by our desire, a ‘field of personality’ around ourselves. In the three instances Jesus gives us – anger, sex and lying – we become enmeshed by our reactions to these powerful human urges. If we live the angry life, always following the path and reaction of anger, then we shall indeed ‘be given’ anger: we will literally become ‘angry people’. If we follow our libido in an undiscriminating fashion then we shall be given what we create. We become enmeshed in the lies that desire creates within us... leading to the inability to confuse truth and falsehood Jesus describes in the final passages.
Now, escaping the myth and fantasy of desire is no easy matter. Paul uses the word μυστηρίῳ - ‘a mystery’ (a word he is not so wont to use) – when describing it, for this really is the heart of the Good News of Christ. By coming close to Christ, by listening to his words and allowing Him to touch our hearts our desires will be redirected so that we may finally receive that which we want.
The readings allow us, then, to see Christianity and Christ’s message as a ‘school of desire’, where ultimately, in the words of Ecclesiasticus, we choose life over death.
All good wishes