Shane Hyland, the Leader of Evangelisation at St Joseph’s Regional College reads today from the Gospel of Matthew (5:17-19) in which Jesus says, ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.’
Shane notes that we heard in a Gospel reflection earlier this week about the Beatitudes and the idea that the Beatitudes were not meant to replace the law but to lift it to a higher level, to complete the law.
Today’s Gospel comes shortly after the Beatitudes and Jesus explains the relationship between his teaching and the law of Moses and the prophets. The law, as given to Moses and each of the prophets in their own time, proclaimed the will of God in their speech. This oral tradition was written down and became the sacred text of the people of the covenant. So, could something that so clearly comes from God, all of a sudden, be invalid? Jesus says no, I have come not to abolish but to complete them.
Shane notes, what Jesus teaches then is in complete continuity with God’s revelation through the Law and the prophets. For the people listening to his sermon, and for us today, it means that we can only read the Old Testament in the light of what has been revealed through Jesus.
There are also quite a few occasions where Jesus seems to contradict himself, he and his disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath, they do not ritually wash their hands before eating and many others.
Here, we can see more clearly what he means by fulfilling the law. What he sees is that people are keeping the law without any regard for the needs of others. When a person is in need, the spirit of the law compels us to respond to their needs and not to refuse them because the law prohibits one thing or another. It is a legalistic approach to the law that is a barrier to the kingdom that Jesus preaches. This approach prevents us from using one line of scripture to determine our course of action which is so often done with matters of moral decision-making.
Our decision-making and our response to the needs of others should be made with the whole of scripture in mind. Pope Francis reminds us of this in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ where he says “Thinking that everything is black and white” is to be avoided (305) and we cannot apply moral laws as if they were “stones to throw at people’s lives” (305).