"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
- Matthew 5:17-20
We are currently reading through the Sermon on the Mount. It began with the Beatitudes. In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." My study bible tells us that Jesus fulfills the Law in Himself, in His words, and in His actions in several ways. First, He performs God's will in all its fullness (3:15). In addition, He transgresses none of the precepts of the Law (John 8:46; 14:30). Also, Jesus declares the perfect fulfillment of the Law, which He is about to deliver. Finally, the goal of the law is righteousness, which He grants to us (Romans 3:31, 8:3-4, 10:4). He fulfills the Prophets in that He is and does what they foretold; like the Prophets He calls the people back to God and the true fulfillment of God's promises and teachings.
"For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." The expression translated as "assuredly" is Amen in the original Greek. It means "truly," or "confirmed," or "so be it." This is used by Jesus as a solemn affirmation, a kind of oath. He uses this word at the beginning of various proclamations (as opposed to at the end) in a unique and authoritative way: His words are declared affirmed before He speaks them. (In John's Gospel the expression appears several times doubled: "Amen, Amen," such as in John 3:3, where it is translated "most assuredly" in the NKJV.) A jot is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet; a tittle is the smallest stroke in certain Hebrew letters. Therefore, the whole of the Law is affirmed as the foundation of Christ's new teaching. All is fulfilled refers to His Passion and Resurrection.
"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." My study bible says that righteousness according to the Law is a unified whole; it's not something to separate out piecemeal as if our lives are an adding up of commandments filled. To observe the least of the commandments is to observe the whole Law; violation of the least commandment is considered a violation of the whole Law. Taken as a whole, Jesus speaks of reverence for the word of God; essentially a reverence for how God wishes for us and teaches us to live our lives, in relationship to God and to the world.
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by first teaching the Beatitudes, a state of being in which one participates in the Kingdom and in its blessings, its "happinesses" even while in this world and living a "worldly" life. In yesterday's reading, He spoke of the tremendous investment and value in discipleship; how disciples are the light of the world, the salt of the earth -- and in so being, they glorify God. In this context, it is blessed even to be persecuted for the sake of the righteousness He teaches, for so were the prophets before. In today's reading, He begins with a fulfillment of the function of the prophets: to call all to the word of God, the teachings in letter and spirit. He is about to give His gospel, the teachings to His disciples, but it comes as fulfillment, not the abolition of what has come before. In Jesus' words, we read about a kind of relationship established. To follow the least commandment is not to do so as a kind of legal stricture alone, but to enter into relationship with the whole of the Law, with God. To disregard or abandon the least is thereby to abuse that relationship, to disregard it or discard it in some sense. As the Sermon on the Mount progresses, Jesus will teach us what it is to truly enter into relationship in the understanding of the Law, the word of God: relationship both with God and with community. He will dig more deeply into how and why it is so, and how righteousness works as "right-relatedness." In so doing, He is bringing a kind of awareness, a consciousness of a deeper level of God who is love, and who teaches us to be God's love in the world. If we fail to understand relationship, we will fail to understand Christ. This is a way to walk a blessed life, the life of the Kingdom. The fullness of His mission will confer the Spirit, the Eucharist, His Passion and Resurrection: it is all part of a whole, the fulfillment of all that has come before, and the giving of a way of life for us.