What we are reading

This coming Sunday is the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Lectionary Cycle A. The gospel reading is from the discourse popularly known as the Sermon on the Mount which we began on the 4th Sunday. There are two options for the proclamation of the gospel. One is quite long (Mt 5:17-37) while the shorter version extracts key verses (Mt 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37). A typical outline of the longer version suggests five blocks of teaching as Jesus continues to address his disciples. The blocks are teachings about the Law, anger, adultery, divorce and oaths. Each block within the longer reading offers examples to illustrate the point. The shorter version offers a succinct comparison of the current Jewish teaching (You have heard it said…) with a more complete understanding of what God intended (but I say to you…) as offered by Jesus. It would be a good idea to pause from this post to read the whole of the gospel passage.

The focus, as a whole, is not the dissemination of a comprehensive moral manual or rule book. Rather it offers a series of examples or case studies from life and holds them up to the light of the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is proclaiming. The goal is to form the disciples (and all who would follow) into a blessed identity and manner of living with the recognition that it will be a community among more dominant cultures: that of their Jewish traditions and that of the Hellenizing influence of Rome. The dominant cultures will not share the fundamental convictions of the believing community that will be formed from encountering God’s present and future reign.

The lesson is to make clear the personal responsibility of freely entering into the covenant relationship with God.  To answer the question, what does it mean to truly be God’s people?

As we noted last week, at a broad stroke, Matthew 5-7 are an expose of Jesus’ authoritative teaching; Chapters 8-9 are stories of his authoritative deeds. Within the chapters dealing with authoritative teaching, there are four primary themes that emerge:

  • 5:3-16 distinctiveness of Christian discipleship
  • 5:17-48 disciples: true fulfillment of the Law – the 6th Sunday Gospel is from this section vv.17-37
  • 6:1-18 disciples: true and false piety
  • 6:19-34 disciples: trust in God over material security

Image credit: Cosimo Rosselli Sermone della Montagna, 1481, Sistine Chapel, Public Domain

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