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.’
It is not uncommon to hear faithful and committed Christians seeking a way to ‘bend the rules’ for their own convenience and satisfaction. I am sure you know the sort of thing … We know the scriptural teaching on something or the other, but the literal application of that teaching does not sit comfortably alongside the way in which we like to live out our daily lives. We join with others to find ways of manipulating the words of scripture to suit our own way of thinking. We bend the obvious into a shape that is, ultimately, barely recognisable as being scriptural teaching at all. We become ‘Christians of convenience’, those who pick and choose which parts of scripture we feel we can follow and which we cannot. In today’s reading Jesus is warning us against the danger of this attitude towards the received divine wisdom and teaching that we find in our Bibles.
Jesus is very explicit in the words he utters: I have come not to abolish [the law] but to fulfil. Jesus’ teaching certainly flies in the face of those man-made rules and practices that have become the markers of the religious life. However, Jesus’ teaching does not lead us away from the true law of the scriptures, instead it points to how we should be behaving, and how we should be living our lives. Jesus did not come into this world to abolish the law or the prophets. Jesus came into this world to fulfil all that had been written, even if that meant contradicting the self-serving ‘wisdom’ of the religious leaders.
As Jesus’ mission unfolds, he strives to bring humanity into a more certain understanding of what is happening. Jesus is the promised Messiah of God. Jesus, the Son of God, has come to earth to renew the covenant God made with humanity in the earliest writings of our scriptures. As the centuries have passed both before the Incarnation of Jesus and since his resurrection, humanity has sought to twist the meaning of scriptural instruction to suit its own purposes, to make life less challenging and more comfortable. Humanity has taken the words of scripture and taught a distorted version of those words to others. That distorted version of God’s word has been preached from pulpits, taught in Sunday Schools and given authority by being published in books. The passing on of that distorted version of God’s word is that which Jesus condemns in today’s reading.
There is no room for compromise or variation in the teachings we find in scripture, even if those teachings do not sit comfortably alongside our modern lifestyles. Jesus calls us to accept the totality of the teachings given by God, even if that involves us in a difficult struggle. And then he offers a dire warning … no matter how hard the struggle may be for us as individuals, we must never seek to lead others down those paths of compromise that have distanced us from God. Instead, it is our responsibility to help and support each other as we strive to be faithful and loyal disciples of Christ.