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Not to Abolish, but to Fulfil

On the Gospel of Matthew 5:17-37

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus saw the needs of the people, the concerns of every day life. The needs were so great he often met crowds of people. In Mark 8:1-10, the people hunger, ‘In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days, and have nothing to eat”. Again in this Gospel, Jesus saw the crowds. Again, he feeds them as they hunger, not for food, but for the truth. In this meeting of the people, his focus is on moral teaching. False teaching, bad example, anger, adultery, divorce, and the use of God’s name in vain, are the examples he chooses for his teaching.

Jesus begins with a clear intention, this being the inauguration of a new religious movement. He is aware of the peoples knowledge of the Mosaic law and the instruction they have been given.He also makes it clear that it is not the purpose of his teaching to ignore or, ‘abolish the law or the prophets'(Matt 5:17) but rather to reveal the full intention of the Father. The Father’s intention is that all may come to know the truth, the root of which is faith in Christ. Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophets and the law, the centre of the moral life. Jesus is the source and cause of justice and wisdom in his suffering, death and resurrection.To help the people to understand, Jesus makes a contrast beween the old law and the new. In Matt 5:21-22, he teaches with authority concerning anger, ‘You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder” and whoever murders shall be liable to judgement. But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council’. Jesus therefore is asking the people to go that extra mile. He is also teaching them about the Holy Spirit. The new law is one that is infused in the heart. Christ has brought to fulfilment what was promised: ‘I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts'(Hebrews 8:10). It is a written law, but not written in stone like the Ten Commandments. Rather, it is written in the heart. It is the working of the Holy Spirit within and the life of grace. He shows the people how living a good life is not just about following a code of precriptions. It is the narrow path. Jesus’s teaching is a response to the aspirations of the human heart for a life of truth and goodness.

This teaching of truth concerning the fulfilment of the Mosaic law is stated clearly by Saint Paul. As the Apostle to the Gentiles in his letter to the Galatians writes, ‘What, then, is the purpose of the law? It was brought in to make room for transgression, while we waited for the coming of that posterity, to whom the promise had been made…Is the law an infringement of God’s promises? That is not to be thought of. Doubtless, if a law had been given that was capable of imparting life to us, it would have been for the law to bring us to justification. But in fact scripture represents us all under the bondage of sin; it was faith in Jesus Christ that was to impart the promised blessing to all those who believed in him. Until faith came, we were all being kept in bondage to the law, waiting for the faith that was one day to be revealed. So that the law was our tutor, bringing us to Christ, to find in faith our justification’ (Galatians 3:19-24)


“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

– Matthew 5:17-37


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