THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW
The wisdom of God is unending. As Christians, we must be very careful to remember this because we are at a particularly high risk to make excuses to deny this claim. The God we worship in the person of Jesus Christ is the same as the One, True God worshiped by the Jews thousands of years before the Incarnation. The God we worship as Christians put into Law many expectations and rules that the Jews were painstakingly careful about observing. The entire Law, as Christ tells us, can be summed up in the Great Commandment: you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, your soul, and your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. The risk we run into as Christians is interpreting this Great Commandment to mean whatever we want it to. Admittedly, this commandment lacks quite a bit of explanatory detail, so how did Christ want us to understand such a command? It’s quite simple - all we must do is look at the Law summed up in the Ten Commandments, which deal with very specific ways in which we ought to treat both God and neighbor.
One of the most important things that Christians must remember that came from the mouth of Christ is read in this Sunday’s Gospel: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus did not forgo or ignore a single law of the Jews given to them directly by God. How could he if he himself was God? We can recognize the strictness that the Jews live by in their observance of the Law, but certain laws and regulations were necessary before the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Laws like the Ten Commandments are solidified in their authority by our very nature; nothing that has occurred or will occur can negate the things God requires of us in the commandments. However, there are certain things that were no longer necessary after the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ because they tended to relate to the laws of sacrifice and cleanliness. The “laws” Christ flouted, though, were not given to the Jews by God, but invented by later leaders with no basis in Scripture. Many Christians believe that some of the “rules” for being a follower of Christ preached today by his Church fall under the same category. An excuse that is often used may be that Jesus was a rebel, which should empower us to rebel against that which we personally deem unjust. Another excuse may be that “Jesus never said anything about this or that, therefore he had no opinion about it.” Both of these excuses use the same hubris that led certain Jewish leaders to create their own laws because they considered their own individual consciences, however malformed as they may have been, to supersede the will of God clearly laid out in the Law and untouched by Christ’s offering. There is only one Law - it is God’s, and it is unchanging.
This Sunday, we hear just how much more strict Christ was in his demands than the Pharisees he criticized, though we always hear the opposite. We must pay particularly close attention to one harsh teaching of Christ from this Gospel: if your right eye or right hand causes you to sin, gouge it out or cut it off, because it is better for you to lose a body part than lose your soul. Jesus wasn’t being dramatic or hyperbolic; he was the Word Incarnate, and did not need to use exaggeration or hyperbole. Jesus’ words are literal - the root of what is causing us to sin, namely our temptations, must be cut out if we are to be his followers. It’s never as simple as an eye or a hand, but is usually our ego and our pride. Cut these out, follow his Word, and follow the Law. Do not assume that you know more than the one who instilled the ability to know within you.