Monthly Archives: February 2014

Jesus and the law (Epiphany 6A, 16 February 2014)

Reading
Matthew 5.17–37

 

What are we meant to do with the Old Testament?

Is it relevant in 2014?

Does the Old Testament still matter now that we have the New?

Has Jesus done away with it? Isn’t it all outdated? I mean Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said by those in ancient times… But I say to you…

And not just once! He says it six times.

Sounds like Jesus is a bit of a radical, turning over the current order, upsetting the status quo, teaching new things.

So does Jesus want to get rid of the Old Testament? Is it ‘old hat’? Has it passed its used-by date?

Christians sometimes speak that way. They talk about the ‘Old Testament God’ as though the ‘New Testament God’ is different. They sometimes assume they are indeed different gods. To them, the Old Testament—and its God—is passé.

So, what do they do with these words of Jesus, which seem to pull in the opposite direction:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

The ‘law and the prophets’ are the two most important parts of the Old Testament. They teach us how to live in covenant with the God of justice and mercy. Jesus says he’s not on about abolishing them. Sounds like Jesus hadn’t given up on the Old Testament. And he hasn’t given up on the God who the Old Testament witnesses to.

But much more than that, Jesus says

truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks 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.

There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. It’s really easy to break them: anyone here with polyester-cotton clothes is a lawbreaker. Anyone who eats prawns or stroganoff is a lawbreaker. And anyone—like me—who teaches that it’s ok to do such things is a lawbreaker.

Jesus is setting high standards here. Very high standards. So are we hopelessly compromised every time we eat seafood in our best polyester-cotton gear?

Do you see what has just happened? We started off saying how Jesus upset the status quo—saying what they’d heard before is not enough—only to turn around and say he supports every bit of the law.

How does that work?

Well, it’s as Jesus says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets. He fills the law full right to the top

  • by keeping it,
  • by showing us what it means to keep it, and
  • by showing us mercy when we fail to keep it. Continue reading

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Honoured are the poor in spirit (Epiphany 5A, 9 February 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 58.1–12
Matthew 5.13–20 

 

Six years ago, I went to Sicily for a conference on liturgy. It was of course wonderful to see a little of Sicily, especially the capital Palermo on the north coast of the island and the beautiful cathedral in Monreale, in the hills above Palermo.

One of my abiding memories of the ten days or so I spent there were the huge banquets we sat down to.

Conferences usually have a formal dinner that people go to and perhaps get dressed up for. But in Sicily, we had three enormous banquets, and each one was bigger and better and brighter than the one before.

The final one was on the last night and was arranged by the President of Sicily. It was astounding. We never did get to coffee, because around 1am, the waiters decided it was time to down tea towels and go home. We breathed massive sighs of relief and got on the buses to go back to bed and sleep.

The first two banquets were organised by the Archbishop of Palermo and the Bishop of Cefalù, about an hour’s drive east of Palermo. So why was each meal bigger and better than the one before?

We wondered about it, let me tell you. The answer is in this one word: honour. Oh, and the opposite of honour: shame. Continue reading

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