The New (Old) Law

Icon of Cain and Abel

10th week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

Matthew 5:20-26

Is Jesus’ New Law easier or harder? Has the Old Law been “reduced” to love of God and love of neighbor?

The Old Law said, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17; 16:18).

Jesus said, “whoever is angry with his brother” or insults his brother is at the brink of Gehenna.

In the Old Law, gifts were brought to the altar as a matter of obligation, custom, and law. Once the deed was done, the worshipper felt scot-free: “I fulfilled my Sabbath obligation. I am in good standing before God.”

Jesus said, “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Temple worship had become institutionalized to the point that religion was taken for granted. The spirit and aim of religion had become muddled in the midst of rituals and obligations. Jesus’ injunction to examine the heart was not entirely new. Scripture records that the first son of Adam offered his gift with an angry heart and killed his younger brother, whose gift was more pleasing, out of envy.

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Ritual was already becoming external routine after Adam’s expulsion from paradise. Intimate friendship with God, the norm in paradise, was becoming a faded memory. The idea of God as “Father” would sound entirely foreign and alien to the children of Adam centuries later.

From the very beginning, the true value of religion lay in the heart of the giver rather than in the substance or quantity of the gift (wheat, sheep, or two mites). 

History has proven that nothing is more difficult than restoring a pure heart, the original image of God stamped within: “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

The Voice that told Cain to “master” himself became flesh and offered the first pure and perfect sacrifice after the expulsion. He has sent us the Holy Spirit from the Father to convict our hearts to do likewise.


1 thought on “The New (Old) Law

  1. Orlando Hernandez

    Gloria. Once again your insights touch upon the very matters that are troubling me at the time. The Sermon on the Mount, the Word of my God, reminds me that I must be reconciled with so many people in my heart. The mercy of our God is that the very Spirit that convicts me also gives me the strength, the acceptance, the hope, and the peace to start and “master” my resentments and begin to better love my neighbor. In the end, this daily effort is the best gift that I can leave at the Altar. Thank you for your words of guidance.


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