In today’s Gospel, Jesus traces this commandment right back to the depths of every human being and helps us see that God wants Truth to reign over even the subtle movements of the heart. Most of us are not guilty of murder, but the violent movement that would take another’s life is already present in the anger, the spiteful word, or the evil intention in the heart of the murderer. It is our INTENTION that drives our words and actions. It is our intention that determines their value. It is the intention deep within the heart that God alone can judge.
Jesus points out that anger, name-calling, and giving others a reason to have something against us are enough to plant the dark seeds of resentment and vindictiveness and, yes, even murder. Jesus calls us to reject vengeance (a demand for “justice”) and work toward reconciliation (an act of MERCY) so that our offering at the altar comes from a pure heart and is free of any shadows of selfishness. God wants our whole heart and every movement within it.
This is a new teaching. The norm of the Old Covenant was justice: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, injury for injury (but not more evil than one had received; this balance was legislated!). But Jesus now tells us: this is not enough. Because in taking justice upon ourselves rather than leaving it to God, we never really restore justice but rather create new injustices and keep anger and enmity alive within us. When we focus on “justice,” our hearts are narrowed and darkened and hardened. In contrast, focusing on mercy and forgiveness opens our hearts to the light of God’s grace and love.
In this teaching, Jesus brings a new level of freedom, made possible in the New Covenant by the transforming power of grace in the Holy Spirit. This creative freedom calls us to selflessness, to forgiveness, and even to loving those who hate us! Grace allows us to be transformed completely in Christ so that we can do what would otherwise be impossible to our fallen human natures: we can respond to the eternal call of the Father and turn back to Him with our whole hearts, in complete freedom.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Deacon Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.