Law & Life, According to Jesus

“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” (Matthew 5:17-19 NRS).

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One of my parishioners asked me before worship on Sunday what part of the Bible is my favorite.  I told him that, of course, I love the Gospel and the story of Jesus in the New Testament, but I love the Old Testament, too.  I really enjoy reading the Old Testament stories because they portray the reality of the human condition.  There is a rawness and a truth in the stories of those whose lives are chronicled in those texts.  The humanity is very present, and we see up close and personal why we will always need Christ when we read the Hebrew Bible. 

One of the parts of the Old Testament that is often overlooked, regarded as archaic and inconsequential are the passages that contain the law.  Many times I hear Christians speak against the Mosaic Law, the laws that were given to Israel through Moses.  But, as Jesus himself said, the law is still part of our lives as followers of Christ.  Christ has become a lens for which we now read the law with new eyes and through whom we have a new understanding.  Much of the 613 commandments in the Old Testament are about relating to God and each other.  It’s about right relationship and how we are to put others before ourselves.  The prophets of the Old Testament call out for the people to return to the law and return to God.  As people fell away from the law, they began to do what was right in their own eyes, rather than God’s.  Soon they also fell away from God.

If we choose to read the law through Christ, we find that it is not an endless, tedious list of things we should or should not do, but a way of holy living.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (2:13).  Does God care about whether we wear a garment made of two different types of materials (Leviticus 19:19)?  Perhaps not, but God does care that we do not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity (Leviticus 19:35), and that we keep God’s Sabbaths and revere God’s sanctuary (Leviticus 19:30).  I suppose I am more concerned that we throw out all the law because we cannot understand a few.  Jesus does not want us following the law for the sake of following rules.  We are to follow God’s commandments because we love God and want to do God’s will.  When I take the time to read Leviticus, I find much more I agree with and try to do as a Christian than disagree.  Mostly I think that if it was important to Jesus, then it should be important to me.

Lord of Law and Love,
You gave each one of us life to live as we choose.
Help us to choose your way over our own.
Let not our egos and our intelligence become a barrier,
For which our relationship with you suffers.
Our hearts yearns for your teachings,
The words of Christ are vital to our lives.
Help our misunderstanding and our unbelief.
Teach us once more your glorious teachings.
May we follow your word and walk in your ways,
All the days of our life.
All honor and glory to you.


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