“You will know them by their fruits”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“You will know them by their fruits”

Scripture: Matthew 7:15-20

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?  17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.  18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Meditation: What do grapes, thorns, figs, and thistles have to teach us about the kingdom of God?  The imagery used by Jesus would have been very familiar to his audience.  A certain thornbush had berries which resembled grapes.  And a certain thistle had a flower, which at least from a distance, resembled the fig. Looks can fool us. How do you know when someone or something is genuine?  Jesus’ warning about false prophets and teachers applies today as well.  What’s the test of a true or false teacher?  Jesus connects soundness with good fruit.  Something is sound when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living — living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20).  The fruits of falsehood produce an easy religion which takes the iron out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin. How do we avoid falsehood?  By being true — true to God, his word, and his grace.  And that takes character!  Those who are true to God know that their strength lies not in themselves but in God who supplies what we need.   The fruit of a disciple is marked by faith, hope and love, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance.  Do you cultivate good fruit in your life and reject whatever produces bad fruit?

“Lord, may I bear good fruit for your sake.  Help me to reject whatever will produce evil fruit.  And help me grow in faith, hope, love, sound judgment, justice, courage, and self control.”

“Enter by the narrow gate”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“Enter by the narrow gate”

Scripture:  Matthew 7:6-14

6 “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.7 “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good  things to those who ask him!

12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Meditation: What can pearls teach us about God’s truth and holiness? In the ancient world pearls were of very great value and were even considered priceless. They were worn as prized jewels to make a person appear more beautiful and magnificent to behold. Holiness, likewise, is a very precious jewel that radiates the beauty of God’s truth, goodness, and glory. God offers us the precious gift of his holiness so that we may radiate the splendor of his truth and goodness in the way we think, speak, act, and treat others. We can reject or ignore this great gift, or worse yet, we can drag it through the mud of sinful behavior or throw it away completely.

Pearls before dogs and swine (Matthew 7:6)
Why does Jesus contrast holiness and pearls with dogs and swine (Matthew 7:6)? Some things don’t seem to mix or go together, like fire and water, heat and ice, sweat and perfume, pure air and poisonous vapors, freshly cleaned clothes and filthy waste. The Talmud, a rabbinic commentary on the Jewish Scriptures, uses a proverbial saying for something which appears inconguous or out of place: an ear-ring in a swine’s snout. Jesus’ expression about “pearls before swine” and “not giving dogs what is holy” is very similar in thought (Matthew 7:6). Jewish law regarded swine as unclean. Wild dogs were also treated as unfit for close human contact, very likely because they were dirty, unkept, lice-infested, and prone to attack or cause trouble.

What is the point of avoiding what is considered unclean? Jesus’ concern here is not with exclusivity or the shunning of others (excluding people from our love, care, and concern for them). His concern is with keeping spiritual and moral purity – the purity of the faith and way of life which has been entrusted to us by an all-holy, all-loving, and all-wise God. The early church referenced this expression with the Eucharist or the Lord’s Table. In the liturgy of the early church, a proclamation was given shortly before communion: Holy things to the holy. The Didache (The Teaching of the Apostles), a first century church manual stated: Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptised into the name of the Lord; for, as regards this, the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs.’ The Lord Jesus invites us to feast at his banquet table, but we must approach worthily.

Prayer and gift-giving (Matthew 7:7-11)
Do you expect God to hear your prayers?  Jesus wanted to raise the expectations of his disciples when he taught them how to pray. Jesus’ parable of the father feeding his son illustrates the unthinkable!  How could a loving father refuse to give his son what is good; or worse, to give him what is harmful?  In conclusion Jesus makes a startling claim: How much more will the heavenly Father give to those who ask! Our heavenly Father graciously gives beyond our expectations. Jesus taught his disciples to pray with confidence because the Heavenly Father in his goodness always answers prayers. That is why we can boldly pray: Give us this day our daily bread.

Those who know and trust in God’s love, pray with great boldness. Listen to what John Chrysostom, a 5th century church father, has to say about the power of prayer:

“Prayer is an all-efficient panoply [i.e. ‘a full suit of armor’ or ‘splendid array’], a treasure undiminished, a mine never exhausted, a sky unobstructed by clouds, a haven unruffled by storm. It is the root, the fountain, and the mother of a thousand blessings. It exceeds a monarch’s power. ..I speak not of the prayer which is cold and feeble and devoid of zeal. I speak of that which proceeds from a mind outstretched, the child of a contrite spirit, the offspring of a soul converted – this is the prayer which mounts to heaven. ..The power of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, bridled the rage of lions, silenced anarchy, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, enlarged the gates of heaven, relieved diseases, averted frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. In sum prayer has power to destroy whatever is at enmity with the good.”

Prayer flows from the love of God; and the personal love we show to our neighbor is fueled by the love that God has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Jesus concludes his discourse on prayer with the reminder that we must treat our neighbor in the same way we wish to be treated by God and by others. We must not just avoid doing harm to our neighbor, we must actively seek his or her welfare. In doing so, we fulfill the law and the prophets, namely what God requires of us – loving God with all that we have and are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Holy Spirit is every ready to transform our lives in Jesus’ way of love.  Do you thirst for holiness and for the fire of God’s love?

The golden rule (Matthew 7:12)
Jesus summed up the teaching of the Old Testament law and prophets with the expression, So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them (Matthew 7:12) – and in the same breath he raised the moral law to a new level of fulfillment and perfection. God’s law of love requires more than simply avoiding injury or harm to one’s neighbor. Perfect love – a love which is unconditional and which reaches out to all – always seeks the good of others for their sake and gives the best we can offer for their welfare. When we love our neighbors and treat them in the same way we wish to be treated by God, then we fulfill the law and the prophets, namely what God requires of us – loving God with all that we have and are and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

How can we love our neighbor selflessly, with kindness, and genuine concern for their welfare? If we empty our hearts of all that is unkind, unloving, and unforgiving, then there will only be room for kindness, goodness, mercy, and charity. Paul the Apostle reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). It is the love of God that fuels our unconditional love for others. Are you ready to let the Holy Spirit transform your life with the purifying fire of God’s love?

The narrow gate and way (Matthew 7:13-14)
Jesus used an illustration of a narrow gate which opens the way that leads to a life of security and happiness (Matthew 7:13-14) to reinforce his lesson about choosing the one true way which leads to peace with God rather than separation and destruction. The Book of Psalms begins with an image of a person who has chosen to follow the way of those who are wise and obedient to God’s word and who refuse to follow the way of those who think and act contrary to God’s law : Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night  (Psalm 1:1-2). When a path diverges, such as a fork in the road, each way leads to a different destination. This is especially true when we encounter life’s crossroads where we must make a choice that will affect how we will live our lives. Do the choices you make help you move towards the goal of loving God and obeying his will?

The Lord Jesus gives us freedom to choose which way we will go. Ask him for the wisdom to know which way will lead to life rather than to harm and destruction. See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. …Therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live (Deuteronmy 3:15-20). Choose this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15). Behold I set before you the way of life and the way of death (Jeremiah 21:8). If we allow God’s love and wisdom to rule our hearts, then we can trust in his guidance and help to follow his path of love, truth, and holiness.

“Let me love you, my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am – a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all whose lives I touch, those in authority over me or those under my authority, my friends and my enemies. Help me to conquer anger with gentleness, greed by generosity, apathy by fervor. Help me to forget myself and reach out towards others.”  (Prayer attributed to Clement XI of Rome [1649–1721])

“First take the log out of your own eye”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“First take the log out of your own eye”

Scripture:  Matthew 7:1-5

1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.  2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  4 Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Meditation: Everybody is a critic, but nobody wants to be judged or condemned.  Then why is judgementalism so rampant, even among Christians?   “Thinking the best of other people” is necessary if we wish to grow in love.  And kindliness in judgment is nothing less that a sacred duty.  The Rabbis warned people:  “He who judges his neighbor favorably will be judged favorably by God.”  How easy it is to misjudge and how difficult it is to be impartial in judgment. Our judgment of others is usually “off the mark” because we can’t see inside the person, or we don’t have access to all the facts, or we are swayed by instinct and unreasoning reactions to people. It is easier to find fault in others than in oneself.

Jesus states a heavenly principle we can stake our lives on: what you give to others (and how you treat others) will return to you.  The Lord knows our faults and he sees all, even the imperfections and sins of the heart which we cannot recognize in ourselves.   Like a gentle father and a skillful doctor he patiently draws us to his seat of mercyand removes the cancer of sin which inhabits our hearts. Do you trust in God’s mercy and grace?  Ask the Lord to flood your heart with his loving-kindness and mercy that you may only have room for charity and forbearance towards your neighbor.

“O Father, give us the humility which realizes its ignorance, admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice, accepts rebuke.  Help us always to praise rather than to criticize, to sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy, and to think of people at their best rather than at their worst.  This we ask for thy name’s sake.  (Prayer of William Barclay, 20th century)

“Why are you anxious?”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“Why are you anxious?”

Scripture: Matthew 6:24-34

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more  value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O  men of little  faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Meditation: What does “serving two masters” and “anxiety” have in common?  They both have the same root problem — being divided within oneself.  The root word for “anxiety” literally means “being of two minds”.  An anxious person is often “tossed to and fro” and paralyzed by indecision. Fear of some bad outcome usually cripples those afflicted with anxiety.  It’s also the case with someone who wants to submit to God but also live according to the world’s standards of success and fulfillment.  Who is the master in charge of your life?  Our “master” is that which governs our thought-life, shapes our ideals, controls the desires of the heart and the values we choose to live by.  We can be ruled by many different things — the love of money or possessions, the power of position, the glamor of wealth and prestige, the driving force of unruly passions and addictions. Ultimately the choice boils down to two: God and “mammon”.  What is mammon?  “Mammon” stands for “material wealth or possessions” or whatever tends to “control our appetites and desires”.  There is one Master alone who has the power to set us free from the slavery of sin and fear.  That Master is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus uses an illustration from nature — the birds and the flowers — to show how God provides for them in the natural order of his creation. How much more can we, as his children, rely upon God’s providential care? God is utterly reliable.  In the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded that God is our provider when we pray: Give us this day our daily bread.  What is bread, but the very staple of life and symbol of all that we need to live and grow.  Anxiety is neither helpful nor necessary. It robs us of faith and confidence in God’s help and it saps our energy for doing good. Jesus admonishes his followers to put away anxiety and preoccupation with material things and instead to seek first the things of God — his kingdom and righteousness.  Anxiety robs the heart of trust in the mercy and goodness of God and in his loving care for us.  God knows our needs even before we ask and he gives generously to those who trust in him.  Who is your master — God or mammon?

“Lord, free me from needless worries and help me to put my trust in you.  Make my first concern your kingdom and your righteousness.  Help me to live each day with trust and gratitude for your providential care for me”.

“Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven”

Scripture: Matthew 6:19-23

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Meditation: Jesus used the images of treasure and eyesight to covey the hidden truth of God’s kingdom. What Jesus said about treasure made perfect sense to his audience: keep what lasts!  Aren’t we all trying to find the treasure which brings security and happiness?  Jesus contrasts two very different kinds of wealth — material and spiritual goods.  Jesus urges his disciples to get rich by investing in that which truly lasts, not just for a life-time, but for all eternity. How attainable is this heavenly treasure and can we enjoy it now, or must we wait for it in the after-life?  The treasure of God’s kingdom is both a present and future reality for those who seek it. What is this treasure which Jesus offers so freely? It is the joy of knowing the living God, being united with him, and receiving the inheritance of an imperishable kingdom — a kingdom of peace, joy, and righteousness.  Since one’s whole life is directed by that which he most values, to set one’s heart on heavenly treasure will be to enter into a deeper and richer life with God.  Which treasure do you seek, earthly or heavenly treasure?

Jesus also used the image of eyesight to convey an important spiritual principle. Bad eyesight is often used as a metaphor for stupidity and spiritual blindness. (For examples, see Matt. 15:14, 23:16 ff.; John 9:39-41; Ro. 2 2:19; II Peter 1:9; and Revelations 3:17.) The eye is the window of the heart, mind, and “inner being” of a person.  If the window is clouded, dirty, or marred in any manner, the light will be deflected and diminished.  Just so with the “inner being” of a person!  How we “see” affects the “inner life”, “heart”, and “soul” of an individual.  What can blind or distort our “vision” of what is true, good, lovely, pure and everlasting (Phil. 4:8)?  Certainly prejudice, jealousy, and self-conceit cause distortion or blindness.  Prejudice destroys good judgment and blinds us to the facts and to their significance for us.  Jealousy makes us distrustful and suspicious of others and distorts our ability to accurately examine the facts. We need to fearlessly examine ourselves to see if we are living according to right principles or if we might be misguided by prejudice or some other conceit.  Love is not jealous …but rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:4-6). Do you rejoice in what is right and good and do you live your life in the light
of God’s truth?

“Lord, your word is life for us.  Fill me with your light and truth, and give me understanding of your ways.  Free me from all that is false, illusory, ugly, and unloving. Let my heart know only one treasure–the joy and bliss of union with you–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

“When you pray, fast, and give alms”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“When you pray, fast, and give alms”

Scripture: Matthew 6:1-18

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in  heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received  their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward  you.

7 “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.11 Give us this day our daily bread; 12 And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; 13 And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.16 “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I  say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Meditation: Why did Jesus single out prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for his disciples?  The Jews considered these three as the cardinal works of the religious life.  These were seen as the key signs of a pious person, the three great pillars on which the good life was based.  Jesus pointed to the heart of the matter.  Why do you pray, fast, and give alms? To draw attention to yourself so that others may notice and think highly of you?  Or to give glory to God?  The Lord warns his disciples of self-seeking glory — the preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise from others. True piety is something more than feeling good or looking holy. True piety is loving devotion to God. It is an attitude of awe, reverence, worship and obedience. It is a gift and working of the Holy Spirit that enables us to devote our lives to God with a holy desire to please him in all things (Isaiah 11:1-2).

Do you pray with joy and confidence? The Jews were noted for their devotion to prayer.  Formal prayer was prescribed for three set times a day.  And the rabbis had a prayer for every occasion.  Jesus warns his disciples against formalism, making prayer something mechanical and devoid of meaning, with little thought for God.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he gave them the disciple’s prayer, what we call the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer.  This prayer dares to call God “our Father” and boldly asks for the things we need to live as his sons and daughters. It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we can know God personally and call him “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). We can approach God our Father with confidence and boldness because Jesus Christ has opened the way to heaven for us through his death and resurrection.  When we ask God for help, he fortunately does not give us what we deserve.  Instead, he responds with grace and mercy.  He is kind and forgiving towards us and he expects us to treat our neighbor the same.  Do you treat others as they deserve, or do you treat them as the Lord would with grace and mercy?  Jesus’ prayer includes an injunction that we must ask God to forgive us in proportion as we forgive those who have wronged us.  Ask the Lord to fill you with the fire of his love and mercy.

What is the sure reward which Jesus points out to his disciples?  It is communion with God our Father.  In him alone we find the fulness of life and happiness, and truth and love. Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote the following prayer in his Confessions: When I am completely united to you, there will be no more sorrows or trials; entirely full of you, my life will be complete. The Lord rewards those who seek him earnestly with humble and repentant hearts. He renews us each day and he gives us new hearts of love and compassion that we may serve him and our neighbor with glad and generous hearts.  Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor?  Seek him expectantly in prayer, with fasting, and in generous giving to those in need.

“Lord, give me a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, and a great love for you.  Take from me all lukewarmness in the meditation of your word, and dullness in prayer. Give me fervor and delight in thinking of you and your grace, and fill me with compassion for others, especially those in need, that I may respond with generosity”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

Scripture: Matthew 5:43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Meditation: What makes Christians different from others and what makes Christianity distinct from any other religion? It is grace – treating others not as they deserve but as God wishes them to be treated – with loving-kindness and mercy. God is good to the unjust as well as the just. His love embraces saint and sinner alike. God seeks our highest good and teaches us to seek the greatest good of others, even those who hate and abuse us. Our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy which God has shown to us. It is easier to show kindness and mercy when we can expect to benefit from doing so. How much harder when we can expect nothing in return. Our prayer for those who do us ill both breaks the power of revenge and releases the power of love to do good in the face of evil.

How can we possibly love those who cause us harm or ill-will? With God all things are possible. He gives power and grace to those who believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. His love conquers all, even our hurts, fears, prejudices and griefs. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal and to save from destruction. Do you know the power of Christ’s redeeming love and mercy?

Perfect and made whole
Was Jesus exaggerating when he said we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect? The original meaning of “perfect” in Aramaic is “completeness” or “wholeness – not lacking in what is essential.” God gives us every good gift in Jesus Christ so that we may not lack anything we need to do his will and to live as his sons and daughters (2 Peter 1:3). He knows our weakness and sinfulness better than we do. And he assures us of his love, mercy, and grace to follow in his ways. Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Ask the Holy Spirit to change and transform you in the image of the Father that you may walk in the joy and freedom of the gospel.

“Lord Jesus, your love brings freedom and pardon. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and set my heart ablaze with your love that nothing may make me lose my temper, ruffle my peace, take away my joy, nor make me bitter towards anyone.”

“But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil”

Scripture: Matthew 5:38-42

38 “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

Meditation: If someone insults you or tries to take advantage of you, how do you respond? Do you repay in kind? Jesus approached the question of just retribution with a surprising revelation of God’s intention for how we should treat others, especialy those who mistreat us. When Jesus spoke about God’s law, he did something no one had done before. He gave a new standard based not just on the requirements of justice – giving each their due – but based on the law of love and mercy.

Jesus knew the law and its intention better than any jurist or legal expert could imagine. He quoted from the oldest recorded law in the world (also known as the lex talionis or law of retaliation): “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25; see also Leviticus 24:19,20 and Deuteronomy 19:21). Such a law today seems cruel, but it was meant to limit vengeance as a first step towards mercy. This law was not normally taken literally but served as a guide for a judge in a law court for assessing punishment and penalty (see Deuteronomy 19:18). The Old Testament is full of references to the command that we must be merciful:

You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the  LORD (Leviticus 19:18). If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21). Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done”(Proverbs 24:29). Let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults (Lamentations 3:30).

Grace and loving-kindness
In Jesus’ teaching on the law he does something quite remarkable and unheard of. He transforms the old law of justice and mercy with grace (favor) and loving-kindness. Jesus also makes clear that there is no room for retaliation. We must not only avoid returning evil for evil, we must also seek the good of those who wish us ill. Do you accept insults, as Jesus did, with no resentment or malice? When you are compelled by others to do more than you think is resonable, do you resist by claiming your rights, or do you respond with grace and cheerfulness?

What makes Christians different from others and what makes Christianity distinct from any other religion? It is grace – treating others not as they deserve but as God wishes them to be treated – with loving-kindness and mercy. God is good to the unjust as well as the just. His love embraces saint and sinner alike. God seeks our highest good and teaches us to seek the greatest good of others, even those who hate and abuse us. Our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy which God has shown to us. It is easier to show kindness and mercy when we can expect to benefit from doing so. How much harder when we can expect nothing in return. Our prayer for those who do us ill both breaks the power of revenge and releases the power of love to do good in the face of evil.

How can we possibly love those who cause us harm or ill-will? With God all things are possible. He gives power and grace to those who believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. His love conquers all, even our hurts, fears, prejudices and griefs. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal and to save from destruction. Do you know the power of Christ’s redeeming love and mercy?

“O merciful God, fill our hearts, we pray, with the graces of your Holy Spirit; with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.  Teach us to love those who hate us; to pray for those who despitefully use us; that we may be the children of your love, our Father, who makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  In adversity grant us grace to be patient; in prosperity keep us humble; may we guard the door of our lips; may we lightly esteem the pleasures of this world, and thirst after heavenly things; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Prayer of Anselm, 1033-1109)

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”

Scripture:  Matthew 5:33-37

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’  34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply `Yes’ or `No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Meditation: How forceful are honest words! (Job 6:25) Jesus addressed the issue of honesty and truthfulness in one’s conduct and speech.  What does it mean to be true to one’s word? To be true to oneself and to others requires character.  Unfortunately many people today miserably fail here.  No wonder we don’t trust many in positions of leadership and influence.  God is the source of all truth and there is nothing false or deceitful in him. His word is truth and his law is truth. His truth liberates us from illusion, deceit, and hypocrisy.  Jesus told his disciples that the truth will make you free (John 8:32).  Why is it so hard to be true and to speak the truth?  Truth demands commitment — that we live our lives according to it and be faithful witnesses of the truth.  Jesus teaches his disciples the unconditional love of truth.  He speaks against bearing false witness and all forms of untruthfulness and swearing unnecessary oaths to God.  A disciple’s word should be capable of being trusted without verbal rituals to give it validity.   Christ’s disciple must speak truthfully without “stretching” the truth by adding to it or by compromising the truth by speaking untruth or by leaving out what is necessary to convey what is truthful. Thomas Aquinas said: People could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another. ..(In justice) as a matter of honor, one person owes it to another to manifest the truth. Are you true — to God, to yourself, and to others? And do you allow God’s word of truth to penetrate your mind and heart and to form your conscience?

“Set a watch, Lord, upon my tongue, that I may never speak the cruel word which is not true; or being true, is not the whole truth; or being wholly true, is merciless; for the love of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away”

The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 


“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away”

Scripture:  Matthew 5:27-32

27 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body  be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole  body go into hell.  31 “It was also said, `Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  32 But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Meditation: What does Jesus mean when he says “pluck out your eye “ or “cut off your hand and throw it away” if it leads you to sin?  Is he exaggerating here?  Jesus used forceful language to urge his disciples to choose for life — a life of joy and happiness with God — rather than for death — an unending life of horrible misery and separation from the loving presence of an all-good God.  Jesus set before his disciples the one goal in life that is worth any sacrifice and that goal is the conformity of our will with God and what he desires for our well-being and happiness with him.  Just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us to sin and which inevitably leads to spiritual death.  Jesus warns us of the terrible responsibility that we must set no stumbling block in the way of another, that is, not give offense or bad example that might lead another to sin.  The young in faith are especially vulnerable to the bad example of those who should be passing on the faith.

Jesus teaches that righteousness involves responding to every situation in life in a way that fulfill’s God’s law, not just externally but internally as well.  Jesus says that evil desires spring from the heart. That is why the sin of adultery must first be dealt with in the heart, the place not only of the emotions, but the mind, will, thought, and intentions as well.  God’s intention and ideal from the beginning was for man and woman to be indissolubly united in marriage as “one flesh” (see Genesis 2:23-24 ).  That ideal is found in the unbreakable union of Adam and Eve.  They were created for each other and for no one else.  They are the pattern and symbol for all who were to come.  Moses permitted divorce as a concession in view of a lost ideal (see Mark 10:2-9). Jesus sets the high ideal of the married state before those who are willing to accept his commands.  Jesus gives grace and power to those who seek to follow his way of holiness in their state of life — whether married or single. If we want to live righteously we must understand the intention of God’s commands and decide in our heart to obey the Lord.  The Lord writes his law on our hearts and gives us his power to live his way of righteousness and holiness.  Do you trust in God’s love and allow his Holy Spirit to fill you with a thirst for righteousness and holiness?

“Lord, begin a new work of love within me.  Instill in me a greater love for your commandments. Give me a burning desire to live  a life of righteousness and holiness.  Purify and transform me that I may be fully conformed into the likeness of Christ.”