12/2/17 – Matthew 5: 17-37
Br. Brenden Humberdross, OPI
Please note that this text version of the homily is slightly different from the audio. This is due to adlibbing in the actual delivery of the homily…enjoy!
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our God and Our Creator.
Today’s words are somewhat important in my career as a preacher as this happens to be the first sermon that I have written as a Brother of the Order of Preachers, Independent and as a member of the Unified Old Catholic Church. I hope that the standard of my words is up to scratch, I guess for that all I can do is rely on the Spirit and hope that He speaks through me today to give a message that needs to be heard.
I have to be honest and tell you that when I looked at the readings for this Sunday, particularly the Gospel I did nearly decide to wait until next week to make this first sermon in the Church. Today’s Gospel, in its extended version, is quite lengthy and covers some topics that aren’t only tricky to interpret but that can be somewhat controversial. The reading covers murder, adultery, divorce, and oath taking. Separately these are all complicated issues that could occupy whole series of sermons, little own trying to tackle them all at once. However, as I sat and said a silent prayer I was struck by a few words right at the beginning of the Gospel reading.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mt. 5:17)
As I prayed it came to me that I didn’t really understand totally what Jesus meant by these words, and that if I couldn’t be sure then maybe others weren’t either. So it’s here that I’ll be focussing my thoughts. How did Jesus fulfil the law and the prophets and what does this mean for you and I?
If we were to look up the meaning of the word fulfil in the dictionary we find that it has dual meanings, firstly it means to achieve or realise something, and secondly to carry out a promised, required or expected duty or role. (Oxford Dictionary)
As I sat and mulled these words over in my mind and let the Spirit talk to me it became clear that the very mission and ministry of Christ, the whole purpose to his life and death were summed up in this one word.
If we take the first meaning of achieving something and examine it further there is an archaic way of defining the term where it’s rendered to complete. So how did Christ and His ministry complete the Law? Before we can answer this though I think we have to ask what the end of the Lawis ?
For many this is a contentious question and it’s been answered in a number of ways depending on your theological bent, however for me the answer is simple. No matter what religious or theological terms you want to dress the Law up in, its purpose was to draw fallen humankind into a deeper walk with God. Now in my mind (and the mind of Scripture), in Christ, we have the ultimate work of God in bringing humankind closer to Him.
Romans 8:3 tells us:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (NRSV)
So how did Jesus deal with sin? His dealing with sin was two-fold. Firstly, Christ stood as an example of a follower of the Law of God. Now I know that we could sight areas where it seems that Jesus may be breaking the Law of Israel (like the Sabbath or cleanliness laws), however, in these instances I tend to think that Christ is obeying a higher law. Often these apparent transgression are in the name of the higher Law of Love.
In Fulfilling the Law in this way Christ has laid out a framework that shows us how to live the Law in a much purer way. He hasn’t cast aside the Law, but he has fulfilled it and moved it to a higher plane at whose pinnacle we find the priority commandments of love of God and love of neighbour.
The second way that Christ has fulfilled the Law in this sense is the most obvious, through His atonement for the sins of mankind and His victory over death in the resurrection. In doing this Christ has granted to the whole human family the Gift of Salvation if we will accept it and follow His ways; this is the ultimate completion of the Law, no longer are we saved through the Law alone, but we are saved through the embodiment of the Law in Christ and the victory of that embodiment over sin and death.
The ultimate challenge for us all as Children of God is to remember that Christ stands for us as an example of the Law and how we’re to follow it. The scriptures and especially today’s Gospel highlights for us how Christ took the existing Law and built on it out of love and compassion for all. Some of the talk about murder and divorce and our relations with each other may be difficult to assimilate. Jesus talks about marriage being an unbreakable bond and we know that in today’s world this isn’t always the practical case. However in stating that Marriage is sacred Christ is actually coming from a place of Love.
Under the Law of Moses it’s generally acknowledged that marriage was a business transaction with women being the property transferred (from Father to Husband) albeit highly prized property. Women were in a role of subjection. This subjection extended to Divorce which was the sole right of the Husband, the wife had no recourse and couldn’t divorce her Husband, instead she had to suffer under a bad husband or beg him for release. I see in Jesus’ words regarding divorce an act of love and compassion. Out of love Jesus is saying that divorce shouldn’t be easy and that it should only be for the gravest of reasons and if we treat each other as property and discard what we do not want then we are simply ignoring the command to love.
In the same vein, we need to remember that God is a God of compassion and love and understands that we aren’t perfect. He knowns that we will fall and that the sacramental bond of marriage can fall into a state that is beyond repair. What we need to be sure of is that we acknowledge the sacredness of marriage, and ensure that it doesn’t become part of our throwaway society. Out of love we need to remember that it’s not our place to judge others. When a marriage breaks down we need to love and support all involved and the Church acknowledges that this happens and opens the way for a continued sacramental life it does not set up walls to bar one from the continued love of God offered through the Church.
We all need to look to Christ as our example of how to follow and interpret the Law. In fulfilling the Law Christ has made the way possible for us to be able to return to God free from the transgressions of this life to forever bask in the glory of the beatific vision. It’s my hope, that we may all love one another as Christ has shown us and that we may build a world where all of God’s children are respected, protected and held as precious and I hope that we can all work together to make the law of love in Christ the law of this world.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.