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Home » Daily Gospel, Daily Readings

Fulfilling the Law (Matthew 5:17-19)

Submitted by on Wednesday, 9 June 2010No Comment

1-kings-18-elijah-mt-carmel-fire

  • Reading I: 1 Kings 18:20-39
  • Resp. Psalm: Psalm 16
  • Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:17-19

The confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is not only a religious confrontation.  Baalism was after all the official religion of Israel under the dynasty of Ahab.  Elijah then proposes a duel between the the Lord and Baal.  It was a duel for Israel’s heart.  I have written an article about this here.

The gospel reading is still from the Sermon on the Mount, and specifically touches on the the religiosity of the Christian.  Jesus says that it should surpass that of the Pharisees and so it should be a religiosity that integrally keeps the Law.  Perhaps because of Jesus’ teaching about the integral observance of the Law which motivated the enemies of the Pauline gospel to insist that the Gentiles keep the practise of circumcision.  Keeping in mind however that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and that he was born of a woman so as to save those who are under the Law (Galatians 4:4), the Sermon on the Mount presents the Law not as a means for salvation but as the expression of a faith that works through charity (cf. Galatians 5:6).

The Catechism refers to Matthew 5:17-19 in three places.  CCC 592 is an echoe of CCC 577 which begins an explanation about the Law of the Sinai Covenant understood “in the light of the grace of the New Covenant.”  This explanation asserts that Jesus, being the greatest in the Kingdom is the only one who can fulfill the principle of integral observance of the Law (CCC 578-579).  In Jesus, the Law appears engraved in the heart, and that he fulfilled its demands when he became the curse of the Law (CCC 580).  In CCC 581, we find an interesting idea that unites the Sinai Covenant and the Covenant under the New Law:  The Word of God that sounded in Sinai was once more heard on the Mount of Beatitudes as the New Moses, Jesus, presents the Law as the requirement of a faith that operates in charity.

1 Kings 18:20-39
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
20Achab sent to all the children of Israel, and gathered together the prophets unto mount Carmel.
21And Elias coming to all the people, said: How long do you halt between two sides? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people did not answer him a word.
22And Elias said again to the people: I only remain a prophet of the Lord: but the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men.
23Let two bullocks be given us, and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it upon wood, but put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under it.
24Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the God that shall answer by fire, let him be God. And all the people answering said: A very good proposal.
25Then Elias said to the prophets of Baal: Choose you one bullock and dress it first, because you are many: and call on the names of your gods, but put no fire under.
26And they took the bullock which he gave them, and dressed it: and they called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying: O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered: and they leaped over the altar that they had made.
27And when it was now noon, Elias jested at them, saying: Cry with a louder voice: for he is a God, and perhaps he is talking, or is in an inn, or on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep, and must be awaked.
28So they cried with a loud voice, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till they were all covered with blood.
29And after midday was past, and while they were prophesying, the time was come of offering sacrifice, and there was no voice heard, nor did any one answer, nor regard them as they prayed:
30Elias said to all the people: Come ye unto me. And the people coming near unto him, he repaired the altar of the Lord, that was broken down:
31And he took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying: Israel shall be thy name.
32And he built with the stones an altar to the name of the Lord: and he made a trench for water, of the breadth of two furrows round about the altar.
33And he laid the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it upon the wood.
34And he said: Fill four buckets with water, and pour it upon the burnt offering, and upon the wood. And again he said: Do the same the second time. And when they had done it the second time, he said: Do the same also the third time. And they did so the third time.
35And the water run round about the altar, and the trench was filled with water.
36And when it was now time to offer the holocaust, Elias the prophet came near and said: O Lord God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Israel, shew this day that thou art the God of Israel, and I thy servant, and that according to thy commandment I have done all these things.
37Hear me, O Lord, hear me: that this people may learn, that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart again.
38Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39And when all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and they said: The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God.
Matthew 5:17-19
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
17Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
18For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.
19He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Galatians 4:4
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
4But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law:
Galatians 5:6
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity.
Matthew 5:17-19
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
17Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
18For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.
19He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
CCC 592
¶592 Jesus did not abolish the Law of Sinai, but rather fulfilled it (cf. Mt 5:17-19) with such perfection (cf. Jn 8:46) that he revealed its ultimate meaning (cf.: Mt 5:33) and redeemed the transgressions against it (cf. Heb 9:15).
CCC 577
¶577 At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issued a solemn warning in which he presented God's law, given on Sinai during the first covenant, in light of the grace of the New Covenant:

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.

CCC 578-579
¶578 Jesus, Israel's Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all embracing detail - according to his own words, down to "the least of these commandments". He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly. On their own admission the Jews were never able to observe the Law in its entirety without violating the least of its precepts. This is why every year on the Day of Atonement the children of Israel ask God's forgiveness for their transgressions of the Law. The Law indeed makes up one inseparable whole, and St. James recalls, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it."
¶579 This principle of integral observance of the Law not only in letter but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they had led many Jews of Jesus' time to an extreme religious zeal. This zeal, were it not to lapse into "hypocritical" casuistry, could only prepare the People for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect fulfillment of the Law by the only Righteous One in place of all sinners.
CCC 580
¶580 The perfect fulfillment of the Law could be the work of none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person of the Son. In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on tables of stone but "upon the heart" of the Servant who becomes "a covenant to the people", because he will "faithfully bring forth justice". Jesus fulfills the Law to the point of taking upon himself "the curse of the Law" incurred by those who do not "abide by the things written in the book of the Law, and do them", for his death took place to redeem them "from the transgressions under the first covenant".
CCC 581
¶581 The Jewish people and their spiritual leaders viewed Jesus as a rabbi. He often argued within the framework of rabbinical interpretation of the Law. Yet Jesus could not help but offend the teachers of the Law, for he was not content to propose his interpretation alongside theirs but taught the people "as one who had authority, and not as their scribes". In Jesus, the same Word of God that had resounded on Mount Sinai to give the written Law to Moses, made itself heard anew on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old. . . But I say to you. . ." With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were "making void the word of God".

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