The Reconciliation Lectionary gives thirty-one verses as an option for a reading at number 180 in the rite. Honestly, I can’t imagine that whole Gospel passage proclaimed at either liturgy or with reconciliation with one penitent. This coming weekend’s long version of the reading only goes to verse 37, and I would wager many of you readers will hear the shorter option.
All of the fifth through seventh chapters in Matthew’s Gospel are known as “the Sermon on the Mount.” Many of you know that.
This Lectionary suggestion follows the Beatitudes and Jesus’ illustration of salt and light. Verses 17-20 are a clarification of the mission of the Lord:
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.
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.
Jesus, as the new Moses (interpreting God’s Law on the mountain), sets the tone for the teachings that follow. In a way, it’s all about tone, just like Pope Francis. “No change in doctrine,” we are promised, not even the smallest part of a letter. But Jesus was indeed a revolutionary change, as it turned out, wasn’t he?
Religious authorities are tweaked, too. At least in the sense that ordinary people are urged to greater holiness in the observing and teaching of God’s law.
The message for the sacramental context, what would that be? Mainly to adhere to virtue and encourage others likewise, and surpassing one’s faith leaders in “righteousness.” These are the aims for which to strive.