“Morality is not man’s prison but rather the divine element in him … The morality that the Church teaches is not some special burden for Christians. It is the defense of man against the attempt to abolish him. If morality – as we have seen – is not the enslavement of man but his liberation, then the Christian faith is the advance post of human freedom.” (Pope Benedict XVI, A Turning Point for Europe, 1994)
That was the late Pope Benedict XVI’s take on moral law as taught by the Church. It is not a set of binding restrictions that strips us of our freedoms, but a standard for which we are permitted to obey out of freedom and love. Those who live lawlessly do not have greater freedom. Rather, they have unwittingly become slaves to their desires.
If law bears such significance to our personal and spiritual freedom, then why would Jesus replace the laws of Moses? Did He? If our faith has its roots in Judaic tradition, why don’t we follow Hebrew law anymore? Cale Clarke spent a segment of The Faith Explained discussing these questions and explaining how Jesus changed everything.
As Cale reminded us, the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus giving five major discourses: The Sermon on the Mount, The Missionary Discourse, The Parabolic Discourse, The Community Discourse, and The Eschatological Discourse. At the end of each of these discourses, Matthew uses the Greek word for “to finish”. Similarly, at the end of Moses’s discourses in the Greek version of the Old Testament, a word with the same root was used to indicate that he had finished.
“I think Matthew is very clearly picking up on this. It’s how he helps present Jesus as a new and greater Moses,” said Cale. But contrary to the beliefs of His enemies, Jesus did not want to abolish the laws of Moses but fulfill them. Jesus explains His perspective very clearly in the Sermon on the Mount:
“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.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
Instructions could not get more explicit than that. Jesus recognizes the value and significance of the law, Hebrew Law specifically, and He says those who do not obey it will be called least in heaven. He will not tear down the law that God handed down to Moses. He will not abolish the directives of His ancestors. But rather, Jesus was preparing to bring us into a new age and with that transition, a fulfillment of the old law. However, nothing would take place until His own role as Messiah had been fulfilled.
Until then, Jesus explains to His disciples through His discourses like the Sermon on the Mount that He has the true interpretation of the Law of Moses, something that the scribes and Pharisees were supposed to be the authority on.
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Jesus is the new law, and the new law is mercy. The Hebrews of the Old Testament were told to live through retribution, unbending justice, and sometimes violent methods of getting even. But Jesus tells us that we have no need to live with hardened hearts. Give up what you have and when you have nothing left to give, give more. In other words, Love.
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