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 fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’
What does that phrase, the law, mean to you?
Are you a professional lawyer for whom it means a way of earning your living by striving to bring justice into a corrupt and corruptible society? Are you, or have you been, a police officer, for whom a working knowledge of the law is, or has been, the way by which you have played your part in ensuring the peace and security of the community at large? Are you someone who does not have a professional interest in the law but loves to watch television dramas that focus on the work of the police and the courts? Or, has breaking the law been an unfortunate part of your life, something that has created a distance and a difference between you and those amongst whom you live? However you view the law, it has always been seen as a necessary component of peaceful coexistence in a world where human nature can be very cruel and self-centred.
Today’s reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount, during which Jesus is laying out a completely new way of living the life of faith. Jesus’ teaching is causing people to think of every aspect of their lives from a different angle, usually an angle which undermines the established practices of the day. It is not difficult to imagine people thinking that Jesus’ teaching is, in some way, subverting the law as well as the practices of their religious leaders.
It is in this context that Jesus reiterates and reinforces the need to obey the God-given laws by which they are called to live their lives. At another part in the gospel narrative, Jesus will warn us that we should listen to those who are experts in the laws of God, whilst also warning us not to follow their ways of behaving. Jesus is adamant. The law of God is essential to the good order and eternal destiny of humanity. Jesus also makes it clear that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to adhere to that life-sustaining and life-enriching law.
We all play the game of pushing the boundaries. We even push the boundaries when it comes to obeying the law of the society in which we live. How many of us stick rigidly to the speed limits we see on our roads, especially when there is no one watching? How many of us have stuck rigidly within the legal guidelines that have been in place over the last year? Jesus is telling us that, when it comes to God’s law, that is never an acceptable attitude to adopt. We are called to be faithful and honest in the eyes of God.
That is the challenge for us today and every day. We are challenged to know and to obey God’s law that we might, in our time, come to enjoy God’s nearer presence in his joyful, loving and peaceful heavenly kingdom.