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 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.”
5:17 Jesus speaks of the law and the prophets, a reference to the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures (see 7:12; 22:40). In saying that he has come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them, he claims to bring to realization all that the Old Testament anticipated. In Matthew the verb “to fulfill” is rarely used in the sense of “to carry out.” Most often it refers to Christ’s bringing Old Testament expectations to fulfillment. Jesus declares that “the law prophesied” (11:13), which implies that the law, like the prophets, pointed ahead to a future fulfillment. Jesus fulfills the law and prophets in one way through his entire life, death, and resurrection, as Matthew’s fulfillment quotations indicate. In another sense Jesus brings the law to fulfillment in his teaching, by showing the kind of life to which the law ultimately pointed (5:17).
5:18–19 “Amen, I say to you” is Jesus’ way of solemnly introducing an authoritative statement. It is used thirty-one times in Matthew. Here, it introduces Jesus’ teaching about the law’s enduring validity. Jesus sees himself and his teaching as being in continuity with Israel’s religious heritage. As 5:21–48 will make clear, Jesus is the authoritative interpreter of the Torah, transcending some traditional understandings of the law and revealing that to which the law was ultimately directed. He explains that true faithfulness to God’s underlying purpose for the law sometimes demands an interiorizing of the legal precepts without diminishing their literal force (5:21–30). Sometimes faithfulness to God’s purpose requires following a higher standard than is expressed in the law—a standard that reflects God’s ultimate intention for his people (5:31–37). It even demands setting aside one’s rights under the law (5:38–42) in order to practice charity in imitation of the Father (5:43–48). In sum, the law itself is not abolished but its role changes as Christ brings forth its deeper meaning. It is in this sense that the smallest letter of the law remains until heaven and earth pass away and until all things have taken place. The law retains its status as God’s revealed word, and one must continue to teach and obey these commandments (5:19). But disciples must now follow the law in light of Christ’s authoritative interpretation.
Friends, in our Gospel today, Jesus declares that he would not undermine the Law and the Prophets, but fulfill them. Jesus himself was an observant Jew, and the themes and images of the Holy Scriptures were elemental for him.
But what is going to fulfill? Protestant theologian N.T. Wright has pointed out that the Old Testament is essentially an unfinished symphony, a drama without a climax. It is the articulation of a hope, a dream, a longing—but without a realization of that hope, without a satisfaction of that longing. Israel knew itself to be the people with the definite mission to become holy and thereby to render the world holy. But instead, Israel fell into greater and greater sins, and instead of being the catalyst for the conversion of the world, the world was continually overwhelming and enslaving Israel.
And then came Jesus, who turned out to be, in the most unexpected way, the fulfillment of the dream. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus affected the gathering of the tribes of Israel through conversion and the forgiveness of sins.
– Bishop Robert Barron
May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.