Gospel of Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Matthew 5:20-24

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: Except your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother: Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say: Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother; and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.

Haydock

Verse 20. Of the Scribes and of the Pharisees. The Scribes were the doctors of the law of Moses; the Pharisees were a precise set of men, making profession of a more exact observance of the law: and upon that account greatly esteemed among the people. Ch. — See how necessary it is, not only to believe, but to keep all the commandments, even the very least. B. — Our Saviour makes this solemn declaration at the opening of his mission, to shew to what a height of perfection he calls us. Aquin. — “Your justice.” It is our justice when given us by God. Aug. in Ps. xxx. l. de. spir. & lit. c. ix. So that Christians are truly just, and have in themselves inherent justice, by observing God’s commandments, without which justice of works, no man can be saved. Aug. de fide & oper. c. xvi. Whereby we see salvation, justice and justification, do not come by faith only, or imputation of Christ’s justice. B.

Verse 21. Shall be liable to the judgment. That is, shall deserve to be punished by that lesser tribunal among the Jews, called the judgment, which took cognizance of such crimes. Ch. — Among the Jews at the time of Christ, there were three sorts of tribunals: the first composed of three judges to try smaller causes, as theft; there was one in each town: the second of twenty-three judges, who judged criminal causes, and had the power of condemning to death. This was called the Little Sanhedrim, and of this it is supposed Jesus Christ speaks: the third, or Great Sanhedrim of seventy-two judges, who decided on the most momentous affairs, relating to religion, the king, the high priest, and the state in general. It is this last that is designated under the name of council in the next verse. A.

Verse 22. Whosoever is angry with his brother. In almost all Greek copies and MSS. we now read angry without a cause: yet S. Jerom, who corrected the Latin of the New Testament from the best copies in his time, tells us that these words, without a cause, were only found in some Greek copies, and not in the true ones. It seems at first to have been placed in the margin for an interpretation only, and by some transcribers afterwards taken into the text. This as well as many other places may convince us, that the Latin Vulgate is many times to be preferred to our present Greek copies. — Raca. S. Augustin thinks this was no significant word, but only a kind of interjection expressing a motion of anger. Others take it for a Syro-Chaldaic word, signifying a light, foolish man, though not so injurious as to call another a fool. — Shall be guilty of the council: that is, shall deserve to be punished by the highest court of judicature, called the council, or sanhedrim, consisting of seventy-two persons, where the highest causes were tried and judged, and which was at Jerusalem. — Thou fool; this was a most provoking injury, when uttered with contempt, spite, or malice. — Shall be in danger of hell fire. Lit. according to the Greek, shall deserve to be cast into the Gehennom of fire. Gehennom was the valley of Hinnom, near to Jerusalem, where the worshippers of the idol Moloch used to burn their children, sacrificed to that idol. In that place was a perpetual fire, on which account it is made use of by our Saviour (as it hath been ever since), to express the fire and punishments of hell. Wi. — Here is a plain difference between sin and sin; some mortal, that lead to hell; some venial, and less punished. B.

Verse 23. He commands us to leave unfinished any work we may have begun, though in its own nature most acceptable to God, in order to go and be reconciled to our brother; because God will have mercy and not sacrifice. Thus he in a manner seems to prefer the love of our neighbour to the love of himself. M.

Verse 24. Leave thy offering. This is not to be understood, as if a man were always bound to go to the person offended; but it is to signify, that a man is bound in his heart and mind to be reconciled, to forgive every one, and seek peace with all men. Wi. — Beware of coming to the holy table, or to any sacrament, without charity. Be first reconciled to your brother, and much more to the Catholic Church, which is the whole brotherhood of Christian men. Heb. xiii. 1. B.

Catena Aurea

20. "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. 21. 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: 22. 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."

Hilary: Beautiful entrance He here makes to a teaching beyond the works of the Law, declaring to the Apostles that they should have no admission to the kingdom of heaven without a righteousness beyond that of Pharisees.

Chrys.: By righteousness is here meant universal virtue. But observe the superior power of grace, in that He requires of His disciples who were yet uninstructed to be better than those who were masters unto the Old Testament. Thus He does not call the Scribes and Pharisees unrighteous, but speaks of “their righteousness.” And see how ever herein He confirms the Old Testament that He compares it with the New, for the greater and the less are always of the same kind. Pseudo-Chrys.: The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees are the commandments of Moses; but the commandments of Christ are the fulfilment of that Law. This then is His meaning; Whosoever in addition to the commandments of the Law shall not fulfil My commandments, shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. For those indeed save from the punishment due to transgressors of the Law, but do not bring into the kingdom; but My commandments both deliver from punishment, and bring into the kingdom. But seeing that to break the least commandments and not to keep them are one and the same, why does He say above of him that breaks the commandments, that “he shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven,” and here of him who keeps them not, that he “shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven?” See how to be the least in the kingdom is the same with not entering into the kingdom. For a man to be in the kingdom is not to reign with Christ, but only to be numbered among Christ’s people; what He says then of him that breaks the commandments is, that he shall indeed be reckoned among Christians, yet the least of them. but he who enters into the kingdom, becomes partaker of His kingdom with Christ. Therefore he who does not enter into the kingdom of heaven, shall not indeed have a part of Christ’s glory, yet shall he be in the kingdom of heaven, that is, in the number of those over whom Christ reigns as King of heaven.

Aug., City of God, book 20, ch. 9: Otherwise, “unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,” that is, exceed that of those who break what themselves teach, as it is elsewhere said of them, “They say, and do not;” [Matt 23:3] just as if He had said, Unless your righteousness exceed in this way that ye do what ye teach, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. We must therefore understand something other than usual by the kingdom of heaven here, in which are to be both he who breaks what he teaches, and he who does it, but the one “least,” the other, “great;” this kingdom of heaven is the present Church. In another sense is the kingdom of heaven spoken of that place where none enters but he who does what he teaches, and this is the Church as it shall be hereafter.

Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 31: This expression, the kingdom of heaven, so often used by our Lord, I know not whether any one would find in the books of the Old Testament. It belongs properly to the New Testament revelation, kept for His mouth whom the Old Testament figured as a King that should come to reign over His servants. This end, to which its precepts were to be referred, was hidden in the Old Testament, though even that had its saints who looked forward to the revelation that should be made.

Gloss. non occ.: Or, we may explain by referring to the way in which the Scribes and Pharisees understood the Law, not to the actual contents of the Law.

Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 30: For almost all the precepts which the Lord gave, saying, “But I say unto you,” are found in those ancient books. But because they knew not of any murder, besides the destruction of the body, the Lord shews them that every evil thought to the hurt of a brother is to be held for a kind of murder.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Christ willing to shew that He is the same God who spoke of old in the Law, and who now gives commandments in grace, now puts first of all his commandments, [margin note: vid. Matt 19:18] that one which was the first in the Law, first, at least, of all those that forbade injury to our neighbour.

Aug., City of God, book 1, ch. 20: We do not, because we have heard that, “Thou shalt not kill,” deem it therefore unlawful to pluck a twig, according to the error of the Manichees, nor consider it to extend to irrational brutes; by the most righteous ordinance of the Creator their life and death is subservient to our needs. There remains, therefore, only man of whom we can understand it, and that not any other man, nor you only; for he who kills himself does nothing else but kill a man. Yet have not they in any way done contrary to this commandment who have waged wars under God’s authority, or they who charged with the administration of civil power have by most just and reasonable orders inflicted death upon criminals. Also Abraham was not charged with cruelty, but even received the praise of piety, for that he was willing to obey God in slaying his son. Those are to be excepted from this command whom God commands to be put to death, either by a general law given, or by particular admonition at any special time. For he is not the slayer who ministers to the command, like a hilt to one smiting with a sword, nor is Samson otherwise to be acquitted for destroying himself along with his enemies, than because he was so instructed privily of the Holy Spirit, who through him wrought the miracles.

Chrys.: This, “it was said by them of old time,” shews that it was long ago that they had received this precept. He says this that He might rouse His sluggish hearers to proceed to more sublime precepts, as a teacher might say to an indolent boy, Know you not how long time you have spent already in merely learning to spell? In that, “I say unto you,” mark the authority of the legislator, none of the old Prophets spoke thus; but rather, “Thus saith the Lord.” They as servants repeated the commands of their Lord; He as a Son declared the will of His Father, which was also His own. They preached to their fellow servants; He as master ordained a law for his slaves.

Aug., City of God, 4, 4: There are two different opinions among philosophers concerning the passions of the mind: the Stoics do not allow that any passion is incident to the wise man; the Peripatetics affirm that they are incident to the wise man but in a moderate degree and subject to reason; as, for example, when mercy is shewn in such a manner that justice is preserved. But in the Christian rule we do not enquire whether the mind is first affected with anger or with sorrow, but whence.

Pseudo-Chrys.: He who is angry without cause shall be judged; but he who is angry with cause shall not be judged. For if there were no anger, neither teaching would profit, nor judgments hold, nor crimes be controlled. So that he who on just cause is not angry, is in sin; for an unreasonable patience sows vices, breeds carelessness, and invites the good as well as the bad to do evil.

Jerome: Some copies add here the words, without cause; but by the true reading [ed. note: Vid. also in Eph. iv. 31. Augustine says the same speaking of Greek codd. Retract. i. 19. Cassian rejects it too, Institut. viii. 20. Erasmus, Bengel. follow. vid. Wetstein. in loc. who would keep the word on the ground of a “consensus,” of Greek and Latin Fathers and Versions. There is an agreement of existed MSS. also.] the precept is made unconditional, and anger altogether forbidden. For when we are told to pray for them that persecute us, all occasion of anger is taken away. The words “without cause” then must be erased, for “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: Yet that anger which arises from just cause is indeed not anger, but a sentence of judgment. For anger properly means a feeling of passion; but he whose anger arises from just cause does not suffer any passion, and is rightly said to sentence, not to be angry with.

Aug., Retract., i, 19: This also we affirm should be taken into consideration, what is being angry with a brother; for he is not angry with a brother who is angry at his offence. He then it is who is angry without cause, who is angry with his brother, and not with the offence.

Aug., City of God, book 14, ch. 9: But to be angry with a brother to the end that he may be corrected, there is no man of sound mind who forbids. Such sort of motions as come of love of good and of holy charity, are not to be called vices when they follow right reason.

Pseudo-Chrys.: But I think that Christ does not speak of anger of the flesh, but anger of the heart; for the flesh cannot be so disciplined as not to feel the passion. When then a man is angry but refrains from doing what his anger prompts him, his flesh is angry, but his heart is free from anger.

Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 9: And there is this same distinction between the first case here put by the Saviour and the second: in the first case there is one thing, the passion; in the second two, anger and speech following thereupon, “He who saith to his brother, Raca, is in danger of the council.” Some seek the interpretation of this word in the Greek, and think that “Raca” means ragged, from the Greek ραχος, a rag. But more probably it is not a word of any meaning, but a mere sound expressing the passion of the mind, which grammarians call an interjection, such as the cry of pain, ‘hen.’

Chrys.: Or, Racha is a word signifying contempt, and worthlessness. For where we in speaking to servants or children say, Go thou, or, Tell thou him; in Syriac they would say Racha for ‘thou.’ For the Lord descends to the smallest trifles even of our behaviour, and bids us treat one another with mutual respect.

Jerome: Or, Racha is a Hebrew word signifying, ‘empty,’ ‘vain;’ as we might say in the common phrase of reproach, ‘empty-pate.’ Observe that He says brother; for who is our brother, but he who has the same Father as ourselves?

Pseudo-Chrys.: And it were an unworthy reproach to him who has in him the Holy Spirit to call him ‘empty.’

Aug.: In the third case are three things; anger, the voice expressive of anger, and a word of reproach, “Thou fool.” Thus here are three different degrees of sin; in the first when one is angry, but keeps the passion in his heart without giving any sign of it. If again he suffers any sound expressive of the passion to escape him, it is more than had he silently suppressed the rising anger; and if he speaks a word which conveys a direct reproach, it is a yet greater sin.

Pseudo-Chrys.: But as none is empty who has the Holy Spirit, so none is a fool who has the knowledge of Christ; and if Racha signifies ‘empty,’ it is one and the same thing, as far as the meaning of the word goes, to say Racha, or ‘thou fool.’ But there is a difference in the meaning of the speaker; for Racha was a word in common use among the Jews, not expressing wrath or hate, but rather in a light careless way expressing confident familiarity, not anger. But you will perhaps say, if Racha is not an expression of wrath, how is it then a sin? Because it is said for contention, not for edification; and if we ought not to speak even good words but for the sake of edification, how much more not such as are in themselves bad?

Aug.: Here we have three arraignments, the judgement, the council, and hell-fire, being different stages ascending from the lesser to the greater. For in the judgment there is yet opportunity for defence; to the council belongs the respite of the sentence, what time the judges confer among themselves what sentence ought to be inflicted; in the third, hell-fire, condemnation is certain, and the punishment fixed. Hence is seen what a difference is between the righteousness of the Pharisees and Christ; in the first, murder subjects a man to judgment; in the second, anger alone, which is the least of the three degrees of sin.

Rabanus: The Saviour here names the torments of hell, Gehenna, a name thought to be derived from a valley consecrated to idols near Jerusalem, and filled of old with dead bodies, and defiled by Josiah, as we read in the Book of Kings.

Chrys.: This is the first mention of hell, though the kingdom of Heaven had been mentioned some time before, which shews that the gifts of the one come of His love, the condemnation of the other of our sloth. Many thinking this a punishment too severe for a mere word, say that this was said figuratively. But I fear that if we thus cheat ourselves with words here, we shall suffer punishment in deed there. Think not then this too heavy a punishment, when so many sufferings and sins have their beginning in a word; a little word has often begotten a murder, and overturned whole cities. And yet it is not to be thought a little word that denies a brother reason and understanding by which we are men, and differ from the brutes.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “In danger of the council;” that is, (according to the interpretation given by the Apostles in the Constitutions,) in danger of being one of that Council which condemned Christ. [ed. note, e: This remark is not found in the Apostolical Constitutions as we now have them. The text in question, however, is quoted in ii. 32 and 50. So again the comment on Matt. vi. 3. is not found in the Constitutions, though the text is quoted. vid. Coteler, in Constit. iii. 14. The passage quoted in Matt. xxvi. 18, is found in Constit. viii. 2. vid. also Usser. Dissert. ix. Pearson. Vind. Ign. p. 1. c. 4 fin.]

Hilary: Or, he who reproaches with emptiness one full of the Holy Spirit, will be arraigned in the assembly of the Saints, and by their sentence will be punished for an affront against that Holy Spirit Himself.

Aug.: Should any ask what greater punishment is reserved for murder, if evil-speaking is visited with hell-fire? This obliges us to understand, that there are degrees in hell.

Chrys.: Or, “the judgment,” and “the council” denote punishment in this word; “hell-fire” future punishment. He denounces punishment against anger, yet does not mention any special punishment, shewing therein that it is not possible that a man should be altogether free from the passion. The Council here means the Jewish senate, for He would not seem to be always superseding all their established institutions, and introducing foreign. [ed. note, f: In this quotation only the last sentence is found in Chrys.]

Aug.: In all these three sentences there are some words understood. In the first indeed, as many copies read “without cause,” there is nothing to be supplied. In the second, “He who saith to his brother, Racha,” we must supply the words, “without cause;” and again, in “He who says, Thou fool,” two things are understood, “to his brother,” and, “without cause.” All this forms the defence of the Apostle, when he calls the Galatians fools, though he considers them his brethren; for he did it not without cause.

23. "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."

Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 10: If it be not lawful to be angry with a brother, or to say to him Racha, or Thou fool, much less is it lawful to keep in the memory any thing which might convert anger into hate.

Jerome: It is not, If thou hast ought against thy brother; but “If thy brother has ought against thee,” that the necessity of reconciliation may be more imperative.

Aug.: And he has somewhat against us when we have wronged him; and we have somewhat against him when he has wronged us, in which case there were no need to go to be reconciled to him, seeing we had only to forgive him, as we desire the Lord to forgive us.

Pseudo-Chrys.: But if it is he that hath done you the wrong, and yet you be the first to seek reconciliation, you shall have a great reward.

Chrys.: If love alone is not enough to induce us to be reconciled to our neighbour, the desire that our work should not remain imperfect, and especially in the holy place, should induce us.

Greg., Hom. 1 in Ezech. viii. 9: Lo He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance. Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin. Pseudo-Chrys.: See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies. But such as was the offence, such should also be the reconciliation. If you have offended in thought, be reconciled in thought; if in words, be reconciled in words; if in deeds, in deeds by reconciled. For so it is in every sin, in whatsoever kind it was committed, in that kind is the penance done.

Hilary: He bids us when peace with our fellow-men is restored, then to return to peace with God, passing from the love of men to the love of God; “Then go and offer thy gift.”

Aug.: If this direction be taken literally, it might lead some to suppose that this ought indeed to be so done if our brother is present, for that no long time can be meant when we are bid to leave our offering there before the altar. For if he be absent, or possibly beyond sea, it is absurd to suppose that the offering must be left before the altar, to be offered after we have gone over land and sea to seek him. Wherefore we must embrace an inward, spiritual sense of the whole, if we would understand it without involving any absurdity. The gift which we offer to God, whether learning, or speech, or whatever it be, cannot be accepted of God unless it be supported by faith. If then we have in aught harmed a brother, we must go and be reconciled with him, not with the bodily feet, but in thoughts of the heart, when in humble contrition you may cast yourself at your brother’s feet in sight of Him whose offering you are about to offer. For thus in the same manner as though He were present, you may with unfeigned heart seek His forgiveness; and returning thence, that is, bringing back again your thoughts to what you had first begun to do, may make your offering.

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