The Jewish law, especially the 613 mitzvah or commandments found in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures / Old Testament) – with 365 prohibitions (You shall not…) and 248 prescriptions (Honour your father and mother; Keep holy the Sabbath day…), was a colossal achievement. The whole of the Jewish nation – and not just the scribes and Pharisees – were rightly proud of their laws and revered and honoured both the Law / Torah and the God who gave it to them through their father Moses. Jesus begins this section of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:17-37) by declaring that he had come not to abolish any of the laws, but to complete them. He goes on to declare that anyone who upholds the law and teaches the law will be considered blessed in the kingdom of heaven; but the opposite is also true.
Bizarrely, Jesus then goes on to make a series of six statements (four of which are included in the Gospel this week; the remaining two will feature next Sunday) where he cites the existing laws using the formula – “You have learnt how it was said” – but then he offers a reinterpretation of the existing law, beginning with an authoritative declaration: “but I say to you…”
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (11’49”)