After Jesus describes his disciples as salt and light, he continues his sermon by explaining how they are to understand his teaching, He has come not to abolish the law but to bring it to fulfillment. Jesus could well reiterate this statement when his later actions seem to negate the convictions of his Jewish contemporaries on keeping God’s law. He eats with sinners (9:11), cures on the Sabbath (12:7-13), and does not enforce the traditions of the elders on his disciples (12:1-8;15:2). Yet Jesus’ words and his actions show that he is not in conflict with the law itself, but with how it is being interpreted.
The law, understood and lived correctly, guides people in living righteously, or in right relationships, a virtue emphasized throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Though external manifestations of righteousness are important, Jesus goes beyond external actions to consider the interior dispositions. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, as Jesus’ passion draws near, he explains the “weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity” (23:23). These are the interior dispositions of righteousness that are the foundational for Jesus’ view of the law.
Jesus teaches through a series of antitheses, or contrasts, the difference between his teaching about the law and what people have heard about the law. Far from abolishing the law, Jesus’ teaching goes deeper, moving from external behavior to the righteous heart that motivates action.
May we with the Lord’s help grow in our understanding of the love that is at the heart of all of Jesus’ teaching.