A Reading form the Gospel According to Matthew 5:17-19
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Opening Prayer: O God, strength of those who hope in you, graciously hear our pleas, and, since without you, mortal frailty can do nothing, grant us always the help of your grace, that in following your commands we may please you by our resolve and our deeds. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus frequently angered the Pharisees by breaking the law. He pulled ears of corn on the Sabbath. He healed on the Sabbath. He touched the unclean. It seems clear that when he speaks of the Law, he is speaking of it in a transformed sense as defined in his teaching that only two commandments are necessary – to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
The law of love reaches to the four corners of the earth and to the end of time. No being escapes the demand of this law. When this law is honored, all the other laws fall into place.
The relationship between the Old Testament and the novelty brought by Jesus was one of the main issues the Gospel had to face. Here Jesus insists on the continuity between the Law and himself. Yet, by affirming that he is bringing the Law to its perfection he is claiming special powers for himself, divine powers. This is the real difference: Jesus is God himself.
The perfection that Jesus brings to the Law is in its spirit and not in the individual observances: the Law is fulfilled by love, which becomes the greatest commandment of all, and in the spirit of freedom, the freedom of the children of God. Ask yourself what is my manner of fulfilling the law and teaching it to others, ask the Father for his pardon. Also ask him to give us his spirit of universal love and filial freedom.
God gave the Israelites the Levitical laws in order to help them learn how to be a people “of his own possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6). Before the Exodus, they had lived in Egypt for over four hundred years. They needed very specific, restrictive laws to keep them from falling back into the habits they had formed while living with the Egyptian people. They ate, learned, and worshipped as Egyptians. These laws were meant to teach them discipleship: how to love, worship, and follow the one true God. The Torah prepared God’s beloved people for the Christian life, specifically for discipleship. When Christ became man, he embodied the law and made it manifest in a new way. He also set us free from the demands of the Levitical laws in order to write the new law on our hearts. We can ask ourselves if we have truly allowed Christ to write his law on our hearts in order to be his faithful disciples. Daily Bible reading, including meditating on the readings for Mass (like praying with this reflection), is a wonderful way to allow God to write his law on your heart.
According to the Catechism, “Jesus acknowledged the Ten Commandments, but he also showed the power of the Spirit at work in their letter” (CCC 2054). Jesus added “grace and truth” (John 1:14) to the commandments when he instituted the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Closing prayer: Jesus, my heart is yours. Please write your law on my heart so that I can know, love, and serve you as you deserve. May your law be impressed upon me daily so that I carry it within me wherever I go.