Fulfilling the Law

Fulfilling the Law

Today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew once again focuses our attention on Jesus as the new Moses, a particular perspective of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  Today Jesus speaks of fulfilling the Law:  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.  (Matthew 5:17-18)

As a Jew, Matthew knew the Law.  However, the Gospel also records a story about Matthew that reveals that knowledge of the Law is not the same as obedience to the Law.  Remember that Matthew was branded as a sinner by the Pharisees for his collaborative role in defrauding the poor at his toll or tax station.  So it is rather interesting to hear these words of Jesus in his Gospel. 

First of all, let us remember what the Law asks of us.  Posing this question may occasion some to begin reciting the commandments.  While many of us know (the) ten commandments, let us remember that there are actually 613 commandments.  Commandments are not the same as the Law.

The Law is best summed up in one word, LOVE.  If necessary, we can add a few more words: Love God, love your neighbor.  The Law is love. 

Perhaps you have gotten into discussions or conversations which revolve around what I can do or what I cannot do before I have broken a commandment.  Some have even gone so far as to say, “How far can I go. . ?”  The fact of the matter is that these questions have no place in discussions of the Law.  For the next few verses of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will actually critique such understandings of the Law.  “You have heard it said. . ., but I say. . .” 

Jesus teaches the fullness of the Law.  He speaks as both prophet and as lawgiver, the same dual role that Moses held within the community.  We are reminded that Jesus comes not to destroy the Law or any part of it.  Rather he comes among us as the fulfillment of the Law.  Jesus is the personification of God’s love for us, a love that was willing to sacrifice itself so that we might live.  As we have been loved, so we are called upon to love others.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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