Commentary on Wisdom 7:7-12; Ps 118; Matt 5:17-19
The Gospel reading comes from the first part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has presented the Beatitudes which are a new and far-reaching challenge to a way of life which really goes well beyond what is required in the Ten Commandments. Immediately after the Beatitudes he speaks to his disciples of the need for them not only to follow Jesus in his teaching but also to live out that teaching in such a way that others are invited to follow it too. They are to be the “salt of the earth… the light of the world… a city on a hill…” They are to behave in such a way that people, seeing the good things they do, will be led to the praise and glory of God.
Now, in today’s passage, Jesus speaks of the place of the Jewish Law. We must remember that Matthew’s gospel is written by a Jew (or Jews) for Christian communities consisting of converted Jews. It is a reassurance that Jesus has not come to do away with the Law of Moses and he condemns anyone who would try to do such a thing.
On the contrary, Jesus says, “until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the Law, until all these things have taken place”. What does ‘heaven and earth passing away’ mean? It is believed that this does not refer to the end of time, the end of the world but rather to the end of the age which preceded the coming of the New World which Jesus, as Messiah and Incarnate Son of God, would inaugurate. The time when the Old Covenant would be replaced by the New Covenant.
After that, the Old Law would still not be replaced but it would be surpassed. We see this spelt out in the six examples which Jesus proceeds to give in the following passages. In these six examples Jesus shows how the more literal and external understanding of certain laws has to be pushed much further on a deeper, more spiritual level.
This, one could say, was the work of Robert Bellarmine, namely, through his teaching and writing to penetrate the true meaning of the Word of God especially against those who were distorting that meaning. He was a man whose personal life also went way beyond the written texts and showed itself in a life of prayer and simple living and concern for the poor, in spite of holding positions of high rank in the Church.
This is also expressed in the beautiful First Reading from the Book of Wisdom. It is from a prayer for wisdom made by King Solomon, renowned for the extent of his wealth. He says that he pleaded for the spirit of Wisdom which he put before kingly power. For him, riches were nothing in comparison with Wisdom. In the view of true Wisdom, “all gold is a little sand and, before Her, silver is to be accounted mire”. In the company of Wisdom, all good things will come and riches of a very different kind.
For Robert and for us that Wisdom comes, of course, from the words and the life of Jesus, who is the Word and the Wisdom of God. To know, assimilate and live that Word is to be truly wise. It is something that even the simplest of people can do.