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02.12.2023 Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments Hans Holbein the Younger


Hans Holbein the Younger summarizes the Bible on one panel. On the left, the decay of the Old Testament, on the right the salvation as offered by the New Testament. Decay and salvation are divided by a tree with dead branches on the left. In the centre a sitting man is shown the right way by the Prophet Isaiah, and John the Baptist.

This division coincides with the Reformist Bible Interpretation, where the period of the Old Testament is seen as a time of sin and penalty. The New Testament shows the way to mercy.

Man’s (HOMO) neglect of Moses' law (LEX), has led to sin (PECCATUM,) illustrated here by Adam and Eve's original sin, and eventually to death (MORS). Even Moses' brazen serpent could not cure man (MYSTERIUM).

On the right Jesus offers grace (GRATIA), justice (IUSTIFICATIO NOSTRA) and even victory over death (VICTORIA NOSTRA). John shows the way, which leads through the Lamb of God (AGNUS DEI).

This allegorical and very moralistic panel is still somewhat Medieval and is therefore seen as an exception in Holbein's work.


Matthew 5:17-37

17“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment’. 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’. 32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn’. 34But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil’”.



We contemplate this week Chapter Five of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus addressed the crowds who eagerly desire to listen to his teaching. They are amazed with his authority. Jesus speaks to them with strong determination to point out that we are children of God and brothers and sisters to each other. He actually explains the full and deepest meaning of the precepts contained in the Jewish Law.

The Evangelist, in locating the First Discourse of Jesus on the mountain, wishes to draw attention to the image of Moses giving the Law on Mount Sinai[1]. This teaching takes place while Jesus is seated, a position that recalls the attitude of the Jewish Rabbi who interprets Scripture to his disciples.

Our liturgical text is preceded by a prologue in which the Beatitudes are presented as the fulfilment of the Jewish Law[2]. The message of Jesus in this teaching focuses on happiness. In the biblical understanding of the word, happiness places man in a right relationship with God, searching for the fulness of life: happiness is tied to the reality of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets

Jesus declares that He is the fulfilment of the law[3]. The heart of the Law was and is: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind... and your neighbour as yourself”. However, observing external laws is not enough. Jesus demands listening, courageous, generous and discerning hearts. In few words, Jesus in his life brings the Law to perfection because with his obedience to the Father, He “has accomplished” the requirements demanded from the Law and the Prophets. He observes the Law completely, more meaningfully: By his Death and Resurrection, Jesus has fulfilled the Law. The emphasis is placed on the behaviour of Jesus: By his obedience and deeds, He has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

About anger (murder)[4]

Jesus extends the reach of the commandment beyond the act of murder to the thoughts, feelings, and actions that cause people to commit murder. He challenges us to deal with the problem of evil while it still resides as evil thoughts or feelings in our hearts—before it finds expression in the evil works of our hands or the evil words –raca- of our mouths.

Jesus calls on us to reconcile with our brother or sister so that good feelings, Godly feelings, will overcome the evil feelings of our hearts.

Once our hearts are right, we will no longer be tempted to murder, but will instead be motivated by love, which is our proper response to our neighbour, and even to our enemy.

About lust (adultery)[5]

The Law prescribes the death penalty for those who are guilty of adultery[6].

Jesus demands purity of mind and heart for both man and woman. He demands mutual respect not only from the sexual point of view, but also as an attitude in the social and religious spheres. In a society of family relationships, then, adultery was an attack on the very essence of the Jewish family in the time of Jesus. That is why "gouging out", "casting out", "cutting off" eyes and hands is only a symbol that points to the purification of the heart, for the coming of the Kingdom of God. There, man and woman will truly love each other beyond the erotic aspect of love.

About Divorce[7]

If we look closely, it is not the woman who causes adultery, but the man who repudiates her, and the man who marries a repudiated woman[8]. It is men who have made the Law of Divorce in their favour and that is why Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount does not accept this breaking of the family love that stands strongly against the will of God.

A Woman depends on men, first on her father, and later on, on her husband. She had no legal rights at all. To all intents and purposes a woman could not divorce her husband for any reason and a man could divorce his wife for any cause.

When Jesus spoke about marriage, “He was not speaking as some theoretical idealist; he was speaking as a practical reformer. He was seeking to deal with a situation in which the structure of family life was collapsing, and in which national morals were becoming ever more lax[9]. Thus, Jesus really wanted to defend the rights of women and bring family values to what God had in mind from the beginning.

About Oaths[10]

The words of Jesus could simply be understood as swearing falsely. This is not proper for the followers of Jesus[11].

One should not swear, neither by God, nor by men, nor by oneself, nor in the name of that which is most sacred. Because one does not swear to support one's truth or to reaffirm one’s lie or one's evil. Truth or falsehood shines by themselves.


The Word of God is demanding for all of us who wish to follow him, and so the love for God is not sincere if it does not lead us to love our neighbour. That is why the Word of God invites us to live the humble attitude of those who are willing to make their lives a simple path of fidelity to the love of Christ and to their brothers and sisters, expressed in obedience out of love for the Law of God.


Lord Jesus, begin a new work of love within me. Instil in me a greater love and respect for your commandments. Give me a burning desire to live a life of holiness and righteousness.

Purify my thoughts, desires, and intentions, that I may only desire what is pleasing to you and in accord with your will.

Psalm 119 invites to us to obey to the law of God with all our personal effort. Such possibility is not only an external obligation but a gift granted to those who put their confidence in God. The practical fulfilment of the new justice, in order to enter in the Kingdom of heaven, cannot only come from an individualistic commitment, but from a familiar and constant dialogue with the Word of God.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and observe your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart”.


  • Has the reading of Matthew 5: 17-37 altered how we think about the Old Testament?

  • As Catholics, should we study the Old Testament more?

  • How have the Law and the Prophets reached fulfilment in Jesus?

  • What themes do we find in both the Old and the New Testaments?

  • Do we recognize the greatest commandment of all in the Old Testament?

  • And how it comes to fulfilment in the New Testament?

  • Jesus declared, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).


[1]Exodus 24: 3-4: “When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do’. Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said”. [2] Matthew 5: 3-16 [3] “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fully fulfil them". [4]Mathew 5: 21-26: “But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”. [5]Deuteronomy 5: 18: “Neither shall you commit adultery”. Matthew 5: 27-30: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’”. [6] Leviticus 20:10 [7] Matthew 5: 31-32 [8]Deuteronomy 24: 1: “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…”. [9] BARCLAY, Williams [10] Matthew 5: 33-37 [11] “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Otherwise, you will be condemned”.

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