Meant to Be More Than the Law

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The Law Fulfilled Through Christ

The lengthy Gospel reading for the sixth week in ordinary time has Jesus addressing the topic of the Law, sacred to the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Any person who challenged the law, challenged the belief in the God of Israel. Jesus, speaking to his disciples, referred to himself as the fulfillment of the law. “I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” There is a progression in Jesus’ teaching this Sunday, by attempting to open the minds of his disciples to understand that the obedience to the law is only a means to an end and not an end in itself. Understood this way, it presupposes there might be other means, in conjunction with the law, which bring fullness to a human life, which is at the heart of today’s reading.     

Jesus reaffirms not the smallest letter or part of the law will pass away until all things have taken place. The law is important for human beings to have some type of roadmap on how to live. The most succinct definition of the law is order; by obeying its precepts, a rational order develops. The ordered life in opposition to a chaotic life is the only way a human person can grow and be fulfilled. Jesus shows the importance of the law by affirming all of the commandments given to Moses. The law is so important to Jesus that he says anyone disobeying or causing others to disobey (the theological terms are: seduction and scandal) will be the least in the Kingdom of God.  Those who obey the Law conversely will be the greatest in the Kingdom. 

After reaffirming the importance of the law, Jesus tells his disciples to look behind human behavior to its causes. He does not focus on the Law’s prohibition on killing; rather, on the anger and abusive behavior that will lead brother to kill brother. Even then, Jesus points to reconciliation as a way out of the vicious circle of resentment and violence.

The focus now moves to intention and how human behavior comes from human desires. For Jesus, the action is simply the outworking of the desire. Sinful human behavior comes from sinful human desires; consequently, to highlight the behavior alone misses the point. It does not address the causes, and can offer no adequate remedy.

Legalism has no place in the teaching of Jesus. When he speaks of divorce, he will not allow the scribes and Pharisees to exploit loopholes in the Law: they wish in some cases to uphold a rigid interpretation of the Law, and in others, to interpret it as it suits them. Only integrity will do. And this is the final theme of today’s gospel reading. A false argument is unacceptable to God, for it betrays a divided heart. When yes means yes, and no means no, God is properly served.

Jesus’ preaching becomes clear, the strict observance of the law is not enough if the interior disposition is sinful. Those feelings, not addressed by the law, such as hate, resentment, contempt, manipulation, passive aggression and evil thoughts can exist even if the letter of the law is upheld. Jesus’ affirmation of the law, along with a true change of heart, is necessary for any disciple to emulate.   

The law cannot change what goes on in the secretness of one’s heart. The only way a heart can be changed is with an intimate relationship with Christ. Only then can an evil and soiled heart be turned into one which is radiant. When Jesus says he is the fulfillment of the law, he is, because as the New Adam, he is the supreme example of what a human being were meant to be. What we were are meant to be people with no duplicity, just like it was with the Adam and Eve before they sinned. 

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