March 18, 2020 (Wednesday) - Reform, Not Rejection - A Reflection on Matthew 5:17-19

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 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.

Among many of the controversial statements that Lord Jesus made, this one ranks among the top, with Scripture scholars offering divergent, and often conflicting views on how to interpret it. We have reflected on this passage several times already, but as I was reflecting upon it again, looking for something fresh to say, it suddenly struck me how easily this is understood if one looks at the entire context of what our Lord is saying. So let’s look at context.

Our Lord Jesus has been saying a lot of things to the Jewish leaders, prefacing his statements with: “You have heard it said,” and following it up with, “but I say.” To give you one example, he once said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” We did this a few weeks ago, remember?

Now, in doing this, our Lord was not rejecting the law, which said murder was subject to judgment. But he was telling people that just because they didn’t physically kill anybody, this didn’t mean they could get away with other forms of murder, like slander or abuse. Know what I’m saying. There are a hundred ways to kill somebody without actually causing their physical death. So, some reformation in their thought process was needed.

And that is what Jesus was engaged in: reform, not rejection. You see, we can’t always understand the mind of God. How can we? He is God, we are not. So, when God says things, we try to understand what he says based on our own reasoning, which is determined by several factors, including intelligence, upbringing and education. Because this differs from person to person, the interpretation consequently differs.

This can lead to fights as we have seen in the history of the church, but even when there is agreement — as with the Jews in Jesus’ time — consensus does not mean they have it right. Therefore, while they had the LETTER of the law down pat, they had missed out completely on the SPIRIT of the law — the essential purpose of all those laws. And this was LOVE!

So, if you reword what our Lord says in today’s passage to — “Do not think I have come to abolish all these things you were taught. I am not rejecting them; I am reforming them to incorporate love into them” — it makes it easy to understand. It’s all about love.