Monday 9 November 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (32/50) – His Radical Demands: Love

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirty-second of the fifty emails.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Matthew 5:17

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:12

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
Matthew 22:35-40

Matthew 5-7 – the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ – sets out the way of life of those who belong to the kingdom. And from beginning to end, it assumes a world we know – where people hurt others through anger, where women are demeaned through lust, where marriages collapse, where Christians are persecuted, where people tread on our toes, where we worry about what to eat and wear even while others are forced to beg. Sound familiar?

We live in this world, but we do so as Jesus’ disciples, disciples of the one who, according to his own claim, fulfils the Law and the Prophets. Faithfulness to Jesus entails faithfulness to all that has gone before in God’s dealings with his people through lawgiver and prophet – but only as Jesus fulfils it. Which means that the Sermon on the Mount is not just about getting to the ‘true meaning’ of the Law, but knowing and following the one to whom the Law points. Far from setting aside the Law and the Prophets, Jesus carries them into a new era of fulfilment in which his authoritative voice will govern the disciples’ obedience.

Matthew 7:12 reinforces what is apparent throughout the Sermon – that our discipleship happens in relationship not just with God but with others. Jesus declares that our doing to others what we would have them to do to us is the Law and the Prophets (echoing 5:17), the true direction in which the Old Testament points.

He makes the same point to the lawyer in Matthew 22:34-40, where the whole Law and the Prophets are said to ‘hang on’ love for God and neighbour. The Old Testament continues in full force for disciples of Christ, but – mediated through Jesus who fulfils it – its regulations are understood and embodied as expressions of love of God and of one’s neighbour being worked out in every aspect of life.

All of which shows that Jesus’ teaching is not concerned with constructing a system of disembodied rules, but with re-orientating the whole of life around a new reality – God’s inbreaking reign. Jesus’ exhortations are not faceless demands, but presuppose certain things about him and about the kingdom he brings, which means that the Law and Prophets are no longer the centre of gravity – Jesus is. We are not just called to live a particular lifestyle but to follow a peerless Lord.

For further reflection and action:

1. The principle to emerge from Matthew 5:17-20 appears to be that all the Old Testament law applies to Christians, but none of it applies apart from its fulfilment in Christ; its validity continues only with reference to him. Look at the examples in Matthew 5:21-48 to see how this works out in practice.

2. Why might it be important not to abstract Jesus’ demands from the story told in the gospel as a whole, which reaches its culmination in the death and resurrection?

3. For Paul too, love is the fulfilment of the law (Romans 13:8-10; cf. Galatians 5:13-15). Think and pray about your week ahead – at work and at home – and the opportunities you will have to express love for God and love for others.

No comments: