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This past Sunday at Mass, the Deacon preached one of those homilies that really stay with you. He focused primarily on the words of Jesus in the context of the Sermon on the Mount and he used that sermon to drive home the issue of Christ’s fulfillment of the Law and that the message of that great sermon was how we as Christians should relate to others. Today, my co-teacher Jack, as we taught our seventh graders in their CCD class, really made it clear on a level that they could understand, using the issue of role models as a way of discussing human interaction and how they arrive at what is right and wrong. In past articles I have written on this blog, I spoke about the sense of continuity between the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament and how there is no real division between the two—despite the fact that many have tried to create one. There are however, many things we no longer do as Christians that the Jews did back in Old Testament days, in compliance with the Law. Christians do not sacrifice animals to atone for their sins. Christians are not required to keep a kosher diet and Christians do not have to build a central temple in which to perform carefully prescribed rituals in a land explicitly chosen for them. The three-year ministry on earth of our Lord Jesus Christ, culminating in His death and resurrection and the establishment of His Church, makes all the difference in the transition from the Old Testament or Mosaic covenant to the New Testament or Jesus Covenant. In those three short years, Jesus ushered in a new era of salvation, although the old era contained the seeds of the new. The most difficult and sometimes confusing biblical statement on the relationship between Jesus and His Disciples and the Old Covenant is found in Matthew 5:17-20, part of the famous Sermon on the Mount. These four verses read as follows in the _New American Bible_ version: _“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”_ This is a complex passage because at first glance it seems that the Law and the Prophets is still in full force—“until heaven and earth pass away”—but as we have already observed, the Old or Mosaic Covenant prescribes animal sacrifices whereas we as Christians no longer perform them in order to pay for our sins. What does this mean? The Old Covenant is to the New Covenant what promise is to fulfillment. To describe the process of promise and fulfillment we can use two biblical examples. Isaiah 53 (my favorite Old Testament Scripture because it played a large part in my conversion to Christianity) speaks of the suffering of the Servant Messiah. Jeremiah 31:31-34 promises the coming New Covenant. Christ’s death fulfilled the suffering described in Isaiah 53. Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled by Christ’s death on the Cross. The Old Testament points to Christ and He fulfills its prophecies and promises. The Old is to New what promise is to fulfillment. The important thing to keep in mind is that the Bible is anchored in Jesus Christ as it moves from the Old Covenant to the New. The person and work of the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, ushers in the New Covenant by fulfilling the Old Covenant. Jesus serves as the direction or the goal of the Old in countless verses, such as the ones in Isaiah and Jeremiah. So the promises in the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the New Testament give significance to a process that has a completion and finality in the very being of Christ Jesus. He brings stability and security. How did, does and shall Jesus Christ fulfill the promises of the Old Covenant as He said He would. The answer is somewhat complex but not at all impossible to understand. Christians are commanded to read the Old Testament and are allowed to benefit from it, but we do not take everything in it as final. Christians honor the Old Testament as the Word of God, just as Jesus does. But we read it, ultimately, through the vision of Jesus and the Holy Spirit inspired authors of the New Testament books and epistles. It is important to note here that from the strictly Jewish perspective, Jews do not accept the Old Testament as finality either but as Law to live by in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Sadly, while many Jews have come to recognize Christ as that Messiah, many are also still waiting. As with almost everything biblical, there are two ways to look at this—a historical context and a literary one. _Historical context_ Let’s begin with a historical and cultural analysis of Matthew 5:17-20. First, the sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem were still valid at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The entire commands in the Torah (the Law) and the rest of the Old Testament were still valid at that time. In fact, the sacrifices did not cease until sometime around AD 70, when the Romans under General Titus destroyed the Temple—a relevant image since Jesus says that He did not come to destroy the Old Testament. The sacrificial system means that Jesus will use words and ideas that contrast with it as a means of attaining righteousness before God. He will become the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. However, while Jesus sometimes speaks to the people in terms of the entire Law still being valid, in the Gospel of Matthew He gradually reveals that He is in the process of reinterpreting the Old Testament and raising the people’s vision to His own words and commands. Such are the last words He speaks before He goes up to heaven (Matt 28:16-20). Jesus is creating a transition from the Old Covenant to the New and He must do this in a way that people can receive and do so without destroying the Old. Second, Matthew 5:20 says that the righteousness of Jesus’ disciples must surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. These are two different groups, but many scribes were Pharisees. This latter group came from an extra-devout movement that began long before Jesus was born. They were non- priestly and committed to the oral Law that explained the rules of conduct based on the Torah. In some ways, oral law became as equally binding as the Torah—at least to the masses, most of who could not read or could barely read. They were certainly not experts in the Law, so they depended on their leaders for guidance. As for the teachers of the Law, they are often referred to as scribes. Their work was not so much copying out Old Testament manuscripts (as their name implies) as it was teaching the Torah and the rulings that piled up on it. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law typify doing external actions in order to please God and appear righteous in the eyes of humans, while forgetting inner righteousness. For example, in Matt. 23:1-38 Jesus pronounces seven woes on them, which contrast their inner and outer righteousness. Verse 35 says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. {But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others.” This second cultural fact is critical because Jesus calls everyone to a more radical righteousness than that of either the scribes or the Pharisees. This call is based on God’s righteousness that is imparted freely to all who ask for it by virtue of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Next week, we will discuss the literary context of promise to fulfillment. Originally posted here: https://emaeus.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/promise-to- fulfillment-part-one/

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1 Sarah R = "Called the "song of the suffering servant," Isaiah 53 is a beautiful passage written centuries before Christ but which has striking parallels to Jesus' death and resurrection. See for yourself at:https://www.deily.org/bible/kjv/isaiah/53And https://www.deily.org/text/the-suffering-servant-of-isaiah-53"
2 Sarah R = "Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Bible has a spiritual context as well as a historical and literary context."