Jesus’ Teaching on the New Evangelization

by David Gray, February 16, 2014

Jesus sermon on the mount

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5:17-37 Jesus pauses for a moment during His Sermon on the Mount to squash any notion that He is completely throwing away the Law of the Prophets. He says:

    “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 into the kingdom of heaven.

After that quick admonition and warning, Jesus then goes on to give the fulfilled commandments on how to deal with anger and reconciliation; He raises the commandment against adultery beyond just the physical act to include thoughts as well; He reestablished the indissolubility of marriage, except in cases where it was unlawfully entered into; He forbids oaths and retaliation against evil; and then commands us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was prefigured by Moses’ sermon on the side of Mount Sinai. In this way, Jesus recapitulates the old law. but then challenges His hearers to a higher standard. He teaches them not as rabbi who can only reference the names of other rabbis from the Mishnah as their source of authority, but, rather, He points to Himself when He says, “You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you”.

The reason why Jesus can; even must, elevate the commands to their fulfilled place in the New Covenant is because He is THE definitive word on how we must live as God’s Kingdom people. Whereas Moses, the prophet, condescended from Mount Sinai to point the Israelites to word of God written on the tablets, Jesus, the living Word of God, condescends from eternity to point all people to His Father in Heaven.

It can be said that in the New Covenant we become even greater than Moses, because we not only encountered God face to face when He came to dwell with us as Jesus of Nazareth, but we continue to see Him face to face and He continues to make His dwelling place with us through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Moreover, Moses only received God’s commands written down on tablets, but (with the Holy Spirit) God permanently utters the commands onto our heart, just as the prophet Jeremiah prophesied He would in the New Covenant:

    “But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days—oracle of the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

In imitating Christ Jesus in this regard there is something He has to say there about true evangelization. That is, to effectively evangelize we must condescend. We must lovingly meet our neighbor exactly where they are, so that we might bring them back to the Household of God, which is the Catholic Church. Now, as great sounding words and noble sentiments those are, they actually require a great deal of intentional effort, energy, and patience on our part to make them fully come alive. It will require sacrifice and may cause some of us to leave our comfort zones, so that we might even be able to condescend in the first place. Yet, by doing so for our neighbor’s salvation we would have still done significantly less than what Christ Jesus did for us.

I invite you to visit a New Evangelization project that I have been working on over at Aleteia.Org. Pope John Paul II defined the New Evangelization as ‘proclaiming Christ to all people’. My contention has been that if this New Evangelization in the Catholic Church of the United States does not reach Black Americans, then there is neither anything new or evangelizing about it at all. There is no way that we can ever proclaim Christ to all people unless we condescend to meet them precisely where they are; even as Christ condescended as an infant to meet humans.

Jesus, help me help my neighbor. Amen.

Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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