Teaching about the Law
Jesus in today’s gospel says that: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfil,” (v. 17).
But what kind of law does Jesus refer to in today’s gospel? The Law that our Lord refers to is the Law that Moses received from Mt. Sinai. It applies also to the first books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch) that include the Ten Commandments. For the Jews, the Law is the complete and precise expression of God’s will; a complete and secure guide of conduct which govern the moral, religious and secular life of Israelites. And Jesus grew to adulthood as a devout Jew by living this Law. This Law explains God’s commandments and ordinances as well as His whole teaching or way of life which He gives to His people. The law is also used to describe the scribal law. And Jesus often condemns this scribal law because it places burdens on people which God has not intended. However, Jesus makes it very clear that the essence of God’s law which is His commandments and way of life must be fulfilled.
And so I would like you to join me in reflecting these three words of Jesus about the law:
First He says: “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” God prepares His people for salvation through the law and the prophets. And Christ comes in order to fulfil, complete, perfect and bring to maturity the law and the prophets and give them its proper interpretation. His emphasis is on mercy and not on legalistic minutiae; on far-reaching love and not on destructive petty details; on positive heartfelt commitment and not on external prohibitions. And about fifteen times in the gospel of St. Matthew that Jesus mentions the word “fulfil.” But this law will not remain as a law but it must move also to our hearts as demonstrated by the Beatitudes.
Second He says: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments…will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.” I read this first rule of the Teenage Creed that says: “Laws are meant to be broken.” Why this is so? Maybe because as we mature we discover so many “Do this, don’t do that” rules which are in conflicts with our subjective happiness. These rules are seemingly oppressive because they are in direct opposition to our personal fulfilment. And so we permit patterns of sin to develop despite what our consciences tell us. If this is the way, then the devil has wittingly suggested his criteria to us. If we are not careful, we may form attitudes that will make us struggle against God and His criteria: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the cross and the teachings of the Church.
Third He says: “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Our true freedom lies not in the rejection but in the acceptance of God’s moral law. Moral law has “its origin in God and always finds its source in Him,” (Pope John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, no. 40). God is not a heartless dictator but a Father who loves us and wills our very best. He says: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?” (Matthew 7:9-10). Jesus posits the question because he knows the Father and His law is a sign that He loves and cares for us. God is incapable of not desiring what is truly best for us. God is and will always be love. And we are meant to be with God forever. Try keeping that message just to yourself.