Not being a lawyer myself I have noticed 2 things about the law. There is the law and then there is the interpretation of the law. Sometimes they can seem like 2 different things – one can seem simple and clear and the other very complicated. I suppose it must be so, because the law is a principle and then there are 100 of situations in which it must be interpreted. That is where lawyers come in and it is also where judges come in to interpret and judge the law.
I suppose that is where Mr Trump comes undone. He thinks he is obeying the law when he sets out to keep people out of his country and then there are lawyers and judges who tell him that he is overstretching himself.
This is where the law comes into its own, it creates order and justice and fair play. It means that people who seem to have power can’t act beyond the law. All are equal before the law. That’s the principle at least, sometimes there are times when it doesn’t work.
The Gospel is all about this today. In the Old Testament Moses was given laws by God to keep. In the sermon on the mount, which we have been listening to, Matthew pictures Jesus as the new law giver. According to Matthew Jesus says, not one dot, not one stroke is going to be removed from the law. Matthew then gives us Jesus teaching it seems to take the law to the nth degree. People will be condemned to hell if they don’t come to terms with their neighbour who they are in dispute. People will condemned if they look lustfully at another.; people who marry another who has been married they will be condemned also; people are in the bad books if they issue oaths.
I suppose 90% of us will not get into heaven given these rules. It sounds a bit like the Taliban who police the streets seeing that moral rules are kept. Its as if Jesus in Matthew’s terms is pictured as a rigid religious teacher who interprets it in its strictest sense.
I think you have to separate things out here. Matthew’s Jesus, and this is the way Matthew sees Jesus, is a man who is tied to the law, he sees him in these terms and this is how he wants to convey him to his community that is 100% Jewish. He is not a threat to them, their laws, their traditions - he has never said anything that they would disagree with. The law is the law and it doesn’t change. What could be less threatening that not one dot, not one stroke will disappear from the law.
But then there is another way of looking at things. Matthew is making Jesus seem acceptable to them but then turns things upside down. He doesn’t deny the law but gives it a new interpretation, a new emphasis, a new direction. He speaks about resolving things before they get too bad, he speaks about heading things off before you think in a certain way, he speaks about people getting on before things break down.
Instead of tying you up in knots these laws are meant to set you free to love. Instead of getting g to the dos and don’t Jesus seems more interested in a stage before that.
It’s unavoidable to see Jesus described as a tough teacher by Matthew. That is exactly the way that Matthew wants to convey him, as tough, unbending, black and white as Moses was. The law is given by God to be kept and not to be broken. What could be tougher than saying not one dot or one stroke has to be removed. But there is a way of looking behind this to see what Matthew’s real intention is - that Jesus is presenting something challenging, new and fresh.
It is hard to keep the commandments. There is something in each of us rebels against them. We think we should go our own way, decide ourself, make our own plans. But what iof the commandments contain the real key to living correctly, purely and happily? Would that not make them things we should seek out and understand?
All of us have to be trained to do good. All of us have to reign in our selfish desires. All of us have to develop self control – not to open our mouth and think later. There is training and there are lessons to learn. Who doesn’t need to learn? Who has reached a state of perfect in which they don’t have to learn or unlearn things?
There is the commandments and there is our life. How do we measure up against the commandments to love?