Friday of week 1 of Lent – Gospel


Commentary on Matthew 5:20-26

Today’s readings are about repentance for the wrongs we have done and the guarantee of God’s mercy.

This passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount and is the first of six so-called “antitheses” where Jesus contrasts the demands of the Law with those of the Gospel. Virtue for the scribes and Pharisees was largely measured by external observance of the law.

For Jesus that is not enough. For him real virtue is in the heart. There was a commandment not to kill but Jesus says that even hatred and anger, violence in the heart (often expressed by abusive language) must be avoided. Furthermore, we cannot have one set of relationships with God and another set with people.

So, it is no use going to pray and make our offering to God if we have done hurt to a brother or sister. I must leave my gift at the altar, and first go and be reconciled with my brother or sister. Only then may I come to offer my gift.

I cannot say I love God if I hate a brother or sister. “If someone says he loves God, but hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20) and “As often as you did not do it to the least of these you did not do it to me.” Repentance has to be expressed both to God and the person I have hurt. I cannot be reconciled to one and not to the other.

We have something like this in every celebration of the Eucharist although, in practice, it can be very superficially done. At the beginning of the Communion, we together recite the Lord’s Prayer in which we all say: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” How often are we conscious of saying those words and how often do we really mean them?

Just after that, we are invited to share a sign of peace with those around us. Again, this can be done in a very perfunctory way. But the meaning of this gesture is that we want to be totally in a spirit of union and reconciliation with each other before we approach the Lord’s Table to break together the Bread which is the sign of our unity as members of his Body.

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