"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Matthew 5:17-20 -- The Law & Righteousness

Last week I wrote about "blessed are they that mourn" in my post introducing the Beatitudes. I recall copying from Kenneth Bailey's book that we are to mourn over evil in our own lives. "Failure to love God and our neighbors should produce grief." He said we should mourn over the realization that we are not able to overcome evil in our lives without God's help. Let's just say that yesterday this verse and explanation came to mind while I was mentally berating myself over how I'd thought about someone and talked about her. I was scolding myself for my meanness and this post popped into my mind. One of those "aha!" moments where a piece of the puzzle falls into place.

On Sunday we sang "Jesus Paid It All" at church. I liked the lyrics to many of the verses, but this one reminded me of myself.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Continuing our study in chapter 5, these are the next words Matthew records of Jesus' sermon:

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Based on these words, do you believe we should still live by Jewish laws if we are followers of Jesus? Some people say that Jesus fulfilled the Law, therefore, we no longer have to keep it. Does this view contradict what Jesus taught here? Or since many also believe Jesus "accomplished" the fulfilling of the Law, we are free from the rules and legalism? Do you think Jesus' ministry was such that people questioned whether he was trying to do away with the Law and the Prophets and that's why he brought this up in his sermon?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law would have been some of the most outwardly pious people of that culture. They kept all the rules of the Law plus added more in an effort to make sure they didn't break any of the commandments accidentally. Why do you think Jesus said our righteousness needed to be more than these people's? I've seen a Muslim writer say that this is where Islam comes into play. Perhaps he meant with all their rules and regulations even in such minute matters, a true follower of Muhammad exceeded the righteousness of those religious people of Jesus' day. Do you agree or disagree with this possibility? Do you believe this is what Jesus had in mind?

What questions or thoughts does this passage bring to your mind?


sanil said...

During his life, according to what's recorded in the Bible, I don't see anything that shows he could have been understood as trying to do away with the Law. After his death, though, when some of his followers took his message to Gentiles, things became trickier, and we can see in the Bible, especially in Acts but also in Paul's letters, that there was a lot of disagreement about what that meant. They were trying to figure out what to do about Gentiles, if they had to follow the whole Law since they were coming into a Jewish faith. The council said no, but then you have to figure out what to tell the Jews.

Personally, I think that these words were assigned to Jesus in Matthew as a way to say in a nutshell that Jesus never taught against the Law. I don't know if he said specifically that, but think it's likely the writer might have put it in and not be misrepresenting, because this is a condensed story of Jesus' life, and that statement could be a condensed version of Jesus' teachings.

Alternately, if it offends anyone to think that the writers of the Bible may have taken such liberties, if you believe Jesus knew the future and what would come from his ministry, he may have really said this in an effort to clear up the confusion that would surface after he died and wasn't around to make a definitive statement.

Texan in UAE said...

Hello my sister in Humanity. I reverted to Islam (from Catholicism) almost ten years ago. I have a lot to say about this, but don't have time n ow. I will follow your blog. (((hugs))))

Susanne said...

Sanil, wow, those are some great theories. I enjoyed those! See why I like when you comment on these "theological" posts? You often bring such good perspectives into play. I thank you for that, my friend! :)

Texan in UAE, welcome to my blog and thanks for your pleasant greeting. :) I love your avatar (Snoopy!) and I look forward to whatever you want to share on this topic or any other. Please drop by any time. You are always welcome!

Thank you both for your replies. :)

Amber said...

Sanil's explanation makes sense, though I do tend to see the Gospels as being more literal recordings than summations. In that view, I would think that perhaps the Pharisees, et al. were making accusations that Jesus was not a 'good Jew' and that He was breaking the Law. So that's why this was brought up. To get His argument in, that He was not, in fact, breaking the Law. They'd added to it and were the nitpicky ones.

As for the Muslim thing, I think not. Our righteousness must be more than theirs because theirs was a false righteousness. They *appeared* to be holy because they kept all these laws, but were they really? Ours is to be a true righteousness. Not just in appearance, but in our hearts.

Susanne said...

Amber, so glad you chimed in with your thoughts. I agree with what you said especially the last part of the final paragraph.