Tag Archives: mercy

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 Isn’t it all outdated?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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