Aim for Peace

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Today’s Gospel features parallel statements by Jesus. He begins, each time, with “you have heard that it was said ...” and follows this received wisdom with a correction: “But I say to you ...”
Two of these statements may make us uncomfortable in a way that isn’t constructive. “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” and “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Under certain circumstances, anger is a natural reaction. And no one can help noticing the sexual attractiveness of at least some of the people who cross our line of sight as we go through our day. Is Jesus saying that these thoughts and feelings separate us from God?
Well, discernment is needed to sort through the moral significance of what flows through our minds. But no, Jesus isn’t saying that God condemns us for stray thoughts and emotional reactions.
Jesus’ “you have heard it said” statements in the Gospel belong to a set of six in his Sermon on the Mount. The sixth has to do with loving even those who are hostile to us. This love-even-your-enemies statement points up the purpose of the whole set.
Jesus is showing how God’s laws direct us toward living in harmony with other people. His theme could be summed up by St. Paul’s encouragement: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all” (Rom 12:18).
Everyone feels angry sometimes (Jesus too — see Mk 3:5). When that happens, Jesus says, don’t start down the road toward destructive conflict and bitterness. For example, don’t make a verbal attack, like shouting at the other person, “You fool!” (Mt 5:22).
Everyone may feel the sexual attractiveness of another person. But when we do, Jesus says, we shouldn’t “look with lust,” that is, look in that way that shows we’ve already decided that, given the chance, we’d try to have sex with that person.
Peace among people can be maintained only if we are pro-active against our tendencies to lash out at each other or exploit each other. Nip those temptations in the bud!