23RD MARCH 2022
Reading I: Dt 4:1, 5-9, Psalm: 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20, Gospel Mt 5:17-19
I HAVE COME NOT TO ABOLISH BUT TO FULFILL
Today’s Gospel passage follows the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus’ first great preaching. Jesus frequently angered the Pharisees by breaking the law. He pulled ears of corn on the Sabbath. He healed on the Sabbath. He touched the unclean. It seems clear that when he speaks of the Law, He is speaking of it in a transformed sense as defined in his teaching that only two commandments are necessary – to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
Jesus begins by telling his disciples that his purpose is not to abolish the law or to criticize what the prophets proclaimed and taught. Jesus intends to fulfill the law. Jesus also emphasizes that keeping the commandments is essential.
However, in the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus frequently disobeyed Jewish law. They often criticized him for not following the law – at least as they believed it should be obeyed. And they didn’t have grounds for their criticism of Jesus. He did not follow the law as the Pharisees thought it should be followed. The Pharisees lived by the letter of the law!
Jesus however, lived by the spirit of the law: the spirit of love! Jesus followed most of the Jewish laws and customs. However, when it came to people in need of love and compassion, Jesus lived by the law of God! Yes, all the commandments are important and necessary. For Jesus, the first two commandments are the foundation for the other eight commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Love should come before all else!
We also can become legalistic as the Pharisees were. We may observe another person doing something that we may judge as not correct. Yet, who are we to judge? We don’t know why the person is doing what he/she is doing. And bottom line, it is not our place to judge. God is the one to judge! We don’t like or appreciate when another judges us. Yet at times, we fall into judging, perhaps before we even know it.
Jesus in our gospel for today speaks about Himself as the fulfillment of the law. In effect Jesus was telling the disciples I am now the fulfillment of those commandments from the Old Testament.
For example, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) which God gave to Moses in the mountain of Sinai. Jesus summarized these ten to become the two greatest commandments which state: “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 neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).”
Love of neighbour is a fundamental attitude that Jesus speaks of, and he says that our relationship with God cannot be honest if we are not willing to make peace with our neighbour.
He says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24). Therefore, we are called to reconcile with our neighbors before showing our devotion to the Lord in prayer.
In all of this, we see that Jesus does not give importance simply to disciplinary compliance and exterior conduct. He goes to the Law’s roots focusing, first and foremost, on the intention and the human heart, from which our good and bad actions originate. To obtain good and honest conduct, legal rules are not enough. We need a deep motivation, an expression of hidden wisdom, God’s wisdom, which can be received through the Holy Spirit.