Epiphany 6A, 12 February 2017
The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which it hears the Word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.
Basis of Union, para. 5
The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people. ― Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth
We’ve got unfinished business from last week, and it’s not about cooking with salt.
It is about last week’s reading though. We didn’t look at the whole thing.
After his words that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus said,
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil… (Matthew 5.17)
What does Jesus mean about not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it?
Some people concentrate on not abolishing the law. Let me tell you about someone I knew at school.
When I was at school, one of the lads in our class was a Seventh-Day Adventist.
Seventh-Day Adventists have a very strong witness of keeping the law as it is written in the Bible. Yet much as I may admire them, I respectfully disagree with them.
My schoolfriend and I had a lot of conversations about which day should we worship, Saturday or Sunday; and whether we should eat bacon. (Now, I’m a bacon fan! Don’t try to convert me to a religion that bans bacon. It won’t work.)
I can’t remember all the details anymore, but my friend would have looked at this verse and said that Jesus had not come to abolish the law; therefore, Christians should obey the Old Testament laws. To the letter.
That meant keeping the Sabbath. On Saturdays only. And no sneaky bacon sandwiches behind the bike sheds.
The Gospel of Matthew presents us with a Jesus who does not abandon the law. Yet Matthew also says Jesus has come to fulfil the law. More than that, he says
unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
What does that mean? How can our righteousness exceed that of people who spent their lives searching how to obey the law?
Was my school friend right? Do we need to follow the Old Testament law to the letter? Not only a life with no bacon, but let me add—no prawns either?
Today’s reading shows us how Jesus fulfils the law; it is by deepening its meaning, by drawing it down into our hearts. But first, let’s just stay with last week’s Gospel just for a moment.
What does Jesus say again?
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil…
The prophets are in there too. What does Jesus mean by mentioning ‘the prophets’?
In many instances, ‘the prophets’ took the law of Israel and deepened it. They interpreted the law for their day.