Jesus did not Come to Abolish the Law, but to Fulfill It

Homily for Wednesday Week 3 of Lent

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17).  Immediately following today’s Gospel passage (Matt 5:17-19) Jesus gives six teachings, “you have heard it said to you…but I say to you…”  You have heard it said you shall not kill but I said to you whoever is angry is liable to judgment.  Jesus wanted to make it clear even before he raised certain Jewish understandings to a higher level that he was not abolishing the Law but fulfilling it.  Indeed it would be unthinkable that Jesus would abolish the Law because according to the Babylonian Talmud God spent the first three hours of every day sitting studying the Law! (b.Abod.Zar 3B)  So God knows exactly how you feel spending the first three hours of every day in class!  Not even the smallest letter of the Law would be changed (Matt 5:18).  Jesus knew better than to change even one letter of the Law because according to Jewish legends the last time that happened it caused chaos in heaven. God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah (Gen 17:15) by removing the tiny letter yod (י) from the end of her name.  That letter yod created a stink because of being dropped from Sarai’s name.  It was continually flitting around God’s throne in heaven so God decided to calm the letter yod down by putting it at the beginning of Hoshea’s name changing Hoshea to Joshua (Num 13:16). (Ginzberg Legends of the Jews 2003 edition, p706) Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, nor to change even one letter of it.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law.  That was because the Old Law was incapable of bestowing grace in the same way as the New Law.  Jews were never able to keep all the precepts of the Old Law (e.g. Acts 15:10).  Instead the Old Law always showed them up as sinners.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law and this he did in the most unexpected way, Calvary.  The Letter to the Hebrews describes Christ’s death as a liturgy, the liturgy of Yom Kippur (Heb 9).  Formerly the high priest had to enter to Holy of Holies every year sprinkling blood to make atonement for sin but Christ did this once for all on the cross.  Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, not even to change one letter of it, but to fulfill it. 

We gather around the table of the Eucharist to be present at Calvary and the Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner sees Christ’s action overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple anticipating the table of the Eucharist.  This Jewish scholar writes,

For the overturning of the moneychangers’ tables represents an act of the rejection of the most important rite of the Israelite cult, the daily whole offering, and, therefore, a statement that there is a means of atonement other than the daily whole-offering… what was to take the place of the daily whole-offering?  It was to be the rite of the Eucharist: table for table, whole offering for whole offering.
(Jacob Neusner, “Money-Changers in the Temple: the Mishnah’s Explanation” New Testament Studies 35 (1989) 290.)

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, not even to change one letter of it, but to fulfill it.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for Wednesday Week 3 of Lent

Jesus completed and perfected the Law and can complete and perfect us 2014