This Sunday in church we are reading Matthew 5:13-20. Here are some thoughts which will form the basis of my sermon.
I am particularly interested in vv17-20. There seems to be some form of contradiction in these verses. Jesus tells us that he has not come to abolish the law, and seems to make dire threats against those who teach otherwise. And yet Peter abolishes kosher law (Acts 10:9-23) and Paul argues that following the law is a problem (Galatians 5:4-6).
There are some logical solutions to this!
“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”… If Jesus incarnation, death and/or resurrection have caused heaven and earth to pass away, or if they have caused all to be accomplished…
What “law” is Jesus talking about? Traditionally “law or the prophets” refer to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and the prophets writings. However, this includes Leviticus which contains the kosher laws. If we look at the vv that follow this weeks reading then we may see that they are a commentary on the 10 commandments. Or on the commandments which Jesus is about to give – where he interprets the 10 commandments in a harder, but more loving way.
Alternatively we might see the law as Jesus expounds it in Matthew 22:34-40 as fulfilling the law and yet at the same time as undermining the “law” as taught by the Pharisees which created additional laws, just to be on the safe side! God’s laws were broad principles. Jewish laws defined the principles in fine detail. After all the passage ends: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Another approach is to look at who Matthew is writing for – which is the Jews. If you are writing to the Jews, it would be sensible to emphasise the continuity with Judaism with its emphasis on the Law and Prophets – Jesus is not doing anything that does away with the Law and the Prophets – even though later disciples do.
Why this questioning? Personally I find a conflict between the Two Great Commandments and some of the others (I am not arguing for us to ignore the 10 commandments – perhaps even to extend them to not coveting our neighbours husband!).
A couple of the commentaries I read say that this is the hardest passage if scripture to interpret (trust me to pick it!).
If this passage worries you, what you have to do is figure it out for yourself – although you can also accept that you can’t make sense of it.