September 16, 2020

Matthew 5
The New Law vv. 17-20 (Part 2)

Jesus proclaimed the “springtime” of God’s dealings with Israel after a four hundred year drought of hearing from the Lord. His “green leaf” message had full regard fro the ancient stock and vine of the Law and the Prophets. Indeed, as he put it, “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” (v.17). His words were to bring photosynthetic new life to the great principles of old Sinai. Indeed, he presents a “New Sinai”, in bursting color. But he does not do so at the expense or eradication of the old, “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” (v.18).

In Jesus’ time the “Law” was understood by most Israelites as the “oral” or “scribal” law, the expansion/reduction of the mosaic law into thousands of rules and regulations. The oral had great impact because that was how a largely illiterate culture was taught and retained God’s commands. As such it was rife with man-made legalisms that burdened, rather than released, the spirit of man. This was the law that Jesus, and later the apostle Paul, took umbrage with. This was the Petri dish which incubated repression rather than liberation. It was the fungus growing on the stately stock of the Ten Commandments.

Jesus saw manmade constructions as a “relaxing…liberalizing… watering-down… setting aside” (various translations of v.19) of the pure gold of God’s law. Rabbi Hillel, the liberal, was as guilty of the “fungification of the Law” as much as Rabbi Shamai, the conservative. Both liberal and conservative schools were codifying, thereby legislating, something that was living and breathing with the pulse of God’s love for the world. Jesus fulfills the law by excising the legal and personifying the heart of God. As the apostle John said, “God is love”. And love is always alive, dynamic, not static. Jesus changed a negative into a positive. The old “Thou shalt not” became “Blessed are they that…” Law morphed into love. St. Paul put it this way, “Love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Ro. 13:10).