Reflections on Matthew 5:17-20
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
In one section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17-48) Jesus told his disciples about taking behavior from the minimal form of obedience to God’s law to a higher level of ethical and moral action. To introduce this longer and more complex section, Jesus used the words that we read above:
I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets,
but instead to make sure that it is followed to the letter. (my paraphrase)
Jesus went on (in verses 17-48) to say that refraining from murder was an important way for his followers to behave, but that it was easy to stop there where we should also not participate in hatred and angry actions. He went on to comment that those who don’t commit adultery should be careful too not to look lustfully at another person.
This way of living in the kingdom of God reminds me of a saying I learned long ago: “Good, better, best, never let it rest, until the good is better and the better is best.”
From this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, it seems that being a disciple of Jesus is a daily invitation to know God’s life-enriching word and to try and apply every bit of it to our encounters with others. That’s how every letter and stroke of the law of God helps mold us into the image of what we are meant to be. Let’s make the good become the better and the best.
God our Maker and Redeemer, help me to embrace the law of the Lord in my daily life, so that I might grow into the person that You wish for me to be. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.