Does This Gospel Make You Feel Guilty?

by Gospels

Gospel of Matthew

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment;
and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, 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.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife –  unless the marriage is unlawful –
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.

But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

– Matthew 5:17-37

Gospel Reflection

Maybe it is just me, but this week’s Gospel often makes me feel guilty and convicted. To know that even thinking about a sinful act is already a sin is terrifying. I am not alone in this because I have encountered many people struggling with scruples, anxiety, and depression citing this exact Gospel passage as the cause. 

However, this passage is often misunderstood by many, including me. I think that Jesus, knowing our hearts and minds so well, is teaching us that we cannot entertain sinful thoughts that may be vicious and lustful while, at the same time, remaining “sinless” because our actions do not break the letter of the law. This is what the Pharisees were guilty of! They may have been going through all the motions of what a holy person would do, but their hearts were not transformed.  It is not enough for our actions to be pure; our thoughts must be pure as well. 

Also, there is always the risk that our inner thoughts eventually manifest themselves in very harmful actions. When people have the discipline to not act in sinful ways but then entertain sinful thoughts frequently, it is usually just a matter of time before their actions begin to reflect their thoughts. 

To avoid scruples, anxiety, and depression with this Gospel passage, I think it would be helpful to reflect on the fact that God is not simply condemning, but more so, encouraging us to allow our inner thoughts to be transformed by Him. If you are truly trying every day to be closer to God and be free from sin in heart and action, this passage does not mean that you are condemned for every sinful thought that crosses your mind, but that you are doing exactly what He wants you to do.

This article was originally published here.

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