[Diocesan Metropolitan of Thrissur Diocese, Malankara Orthodox Church]


"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing." [Matthew 5:21-26]

On the Sundays after the festival of the Cross, the scripture lessons are arranged to meditate on a new theme: “the culture of the Cross”. This culture is placed over against a culture that existed in Jewish community of Jesus’ time and which may also be seen today in our society. The foundation of the culture of the Jewish community was the Law of Moses. Of course, Jesus respected and upheld the Law of Moses. But in the hands of the Jewish teachers and interpreters, it lost its spirit. Jesus wanted to bring back this spirit. The ‘culture of the Cross’ certainly was something God wanted to have in human community from the very beginning itself. It is with this backdrop that we should read this lesson.

This culture would help people to live a peaceful life in this world. Everyone, under this system, will be taken care of and the identity of each will be respected. When God created things on earth, he created each according to its kind. Then again God brought all animals before humans that human name them. Further God wanted each one to be responsible for his/her brother. When God failed to see this happening, He asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother?’ With the tragedy that occurred in the Garden of Eden, the whole thing went upside down. God’s dream was, for a while, in jeopardy. Mutual respect and caring was lost not only in the realm of humans, but also between humans and nature. Life in the Garden became impossible and God had to send humans out. We can see the dream of God about the returning of the situation in the 11th chapter of Isaiah. This was finally put to practice in and through the life of Jesus Christ. His life, work and mission were to make the dream of God come true.

In the new culture based on the Cross of Christ, law never would become the final word. Rather, law shall work as a tool to make the culture established. What is primary is the relationship between each of the elements in creation. If the law helped to establish this, it is good; otherwise it is useless. Law was not originally bad. It was made bad in the hands of the Jewish teachers. So it had to be revitalized. This is what Jesus was trying to do here.

The Jews had only a limited way of looking at an offense. They would say, willful murderers are liable to the sword of justice and causal ones to the judgment of the city of refuge (Lev. 24:17; Nbr. 35:6). The social context of the origin of the law is also brought in here through the phrase ‘that it was said by the men of old’. The forefathers have handed down these laws to the current generation. Applying them without ever understanding the context and spirit will spoil the whole purpose of the law. For the Jews laws were just political and municipal. For Jesus it should primarily be spiritual that would help the relationship grow and be in a better shape. Again, for the Jews law was important because it helped them keep the society under control. Jesus had to criticize them at several occasions for not taking humans and their free and peaceful existence into consideration when they interpreted and applied Law of Moses. No law can be good just for the reason that it was handed down by people of old. In the present case, for Jews only the physical act of killing was all that mattered. But for Jesus that is only one side of the story. He knew that people could be killed in several ways. Jews were incompetent to interpret the law with various dimensions of it in mind. For Jesus anger can be the first step for killing as in the case of Cain (Gen. 9:5, 6). In our text, the word used for ‘anger’ in the Greek New Testament (rake) is not a Greek word. It is an Aramaic word probably used by Jesus himself. It can be used for killing too. So physical killing is not differentiated from the emotional or psychological torture and annihilation. The use of words like, judgment, council, hell of fire may not refer to categories of trial in the judicial system. In the Jewish system anger is lawful but for Christ it is a sin. It is the case with calling one’s brother ‘fool’ (For Prov. 21:24 calling someone fool comes from pride. For Psalmist [64:3] bitter words are as arrows that hurt others). God has created each one in this world as worthy and valuable individuals. To call one among them ‘fool’ is to say that God was unable to make this person good. Anyone who does this sin is liable to receive hell of fire. The word used for hell fire is ‘Gahanna’. The picture of this is taken from the kind of capital punishment existed among Jews that is to put a person in the valley of Hinnom (2 Chr. 33:6). There were two other ways of executing capital punishment, which are beheading and stoning. In any case, for Jesus, even a word of hatred or curse can be violation of the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ (Ex. 19:13).

Further Jesus takes the question in positive tone. The question is how to look at the Law of Moses in a new and positive way. Jesus says, every one has to be mindful of what others think of themselves. It is not what I think of the other, what the other think of you, that is the question. Jesus says if you learn that your brother has something against you, and then you need to be reconciled with him before offering any sacrifice before God. One can pretend to be righteous without doing any harm to others. For Jesus, that is not possible. In the Culture of the Cross-, one has to consider whether the other person has something against him/her. If there is something, then that needs to be sorted out. Many a time what we do out of our innocence to help others may not always help them rather may harm them even. What we think good for others may not be good in fact. This may invite displeasure. Then that person may have something against this person. Hence every step and action needs to be with utmost care and caution. Unknowingly we may harm others. Here the word ‘brother’ does not need to be taken literally and strictly. It can mean anyone or anything, even a tree and its fruit as we see in the case of Adam and Eve. To perform the religious rites and duties is important. It can be meaningful only if it is followed by a peace initiative with the fellow being (remember we should have kiss of peace after the reading of the Gospel and before the Holy Qurbana proper begins). No religious act or rite has got any magical effect, as some people may think. It is a natural step that comes after an establishment of peace.

The point is further explained through a familiar example from life situation. If there is a quarrel between two people and one takes the other to court, and if the first knows that the fault is with him, then it is better to reconcile with the other before they get to the judge. Here the role of judge is that of Jesus. He is waiting for us to come to him after having reconciled with our brothers. Otherwise Jesus will have to leave that person for condemnation. The Culture of the Cross-is the culture of a just relationship and reconciliation. St. Paul in 2 Cor. 5:18-20 talks about the sacrament of reconciliation. God in Christ has reconciled with us and Christ has handed over to us the ministry of reconciliation. Now it is for us to be liberated from legalism and learn to live in peace and harmony with others.

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