Matthew 5:17-20

“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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20

“There oughta be a law!” My sense is that the vast majority of rules and regulations that seek to govern our lives was hatched in the mind of someone who wanted to see things in the world get better. Their wishes became ideas became motions became legislation became laws, rules, and regulations.

Yesterday at church we heard a presentation from Kathy Patrick, a member of our congregation who recently participated in an international gathering of Lutheran women in Wittenberg, Germany. She shared the stories of two female leaders from the church in Brazil who are fighting to make domestic violence a crime. There, and in many other places in the world, there is no law protecting women from being beaten by their husbands. Clearly, there oughta be a law!

At the same time, the US Senate will likely approve a nominee who will head up President Trump’s initiative to reduce and remove as many federal regulations as possible that he believes hamstring American businesses in unnecessary and unhelpful ways. Someone somewhere is fighting back – there ought not be THAT law!

Dr. Martin Luther King famously said, “I can’t make a man love me but I can certainly use the law to prevent him from lynching me.”

And there you go. One person’s helpful law is another person’s infringement on their freedom. How do we make our way through this?

I bristle whenever I sense the Christian faith reduced to a definable set of religious and moral rules and regulations. I cheer every time Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and others (usually quietly because his same barbs apply equally to me) as they twist the intent of the law toward their own advantage. Such moves turn Christians into caricatures of those grumpy old men sitting high in the wings above the Muppet Show. They suggest that we can save ourselves via compliance with rigorously applied standards of so-called Christian behavior. No, we can’t. Such efforts just make everything worse.

But having said all of that, we are still left with Jesus here vigorously defending the law and the prophets. There is a vital and necessary place for the law in our lives – for the Ten Commandments, for the commandment to love God and to love our neighbors. But notice how careful Jesus is in his words. He says he has come, not to abolish the law but to FULFILL it. That is important. Not to COMPLY with the law (that is, grudgingly doing what is expected) but to FULFILL the law (to realize the God-given purpose of the law which always reaches toward love of God and love of neighbor.) Let this be our life goal as well!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, help us to see the holy and loving purpose behind the rules and regulations on our behaviors. And in this, keep us mindful of the many ways that we are tempted to twist and manipulate things to our own advantage. Let our behaviors be rooted always in love, with a deep concern for justice, and a willingness to accept the consequences when we violate boundaries that ought not be so violated. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 5:17-20”

  1. Georgene Says:

    Really like this one.

  2. Carolee Groux Says:

    Sometimes we feel that there are too many laws that govern our lives in unnecessary ways. In fact there are indeed old antiquated laws on the books that could and should be repealed. However God’s first commandment is to have “no other God’s before me, and to love your neighbor as much as yourself”.
    Over the ages this still stands as God’s greatest commandment.
    Amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so.

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