Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19
In Matthew’s gospel especially, Jesus is shown as not being a maverick breakaway from the traditions of the Jews. He was not a heretic or a blasphemer. He was the last in the great line of prophets sent by God to his people. “Last of all God sent his Son.” And so, in today’s passage, he strongly emphasises that it is not his intention to abrogate the Jewish law but rather to develop and complete it. In the verses that immediately follow today’s passage Jesus gives six very clear examples of what he means. He quotes a number of moral situations contained in the Law and shows how he expects his followers not only to observe them but to go much further in understanding their
The Law is not to be downgraded in any way; rather it is to be transcended to a higher level. Up to the time of Jesus, and this is clearly exemplified in the Pharisees and Scribes as they appear in the gospels, perfect observance of the Law focused on external observance. Jesus will show that true observance must also be in the heart and mind.
Christians, too, can become obsessed with external observance of Church laws and regulations. It can become a source of scrupulosity and fear. This can happen during the Lenten season when we are encouraged to do ‘penitential acts’. We need to remember that these acts do not stand on their own and only have meaning if they deepen our relationship with God. In all things, our ultimate guide must be the law of love. No truly loving act can ever be sinful, although at times it may violate the letter of a law.