In today's Gospel reading Jesus declares that he has not "come to abolish the law or the prophets", but to fulfill them. What exactly does this mean?
Jesus explains that his intent is not to encourage anyone to break any of God's commandments. He has not come with a message of laxity about the things of God. The real clue to Jesus' meaning comes in verse 20, just after the end of our reading:
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5:20)What is it that the scribes and Pharisees lack in righteousness that we are called to have? Certainly, they know the commandments and keep them to the letter. What they are lacking is charity, love. In the remainder of Chapter 5, Matthew recounts Jesus' teachings on anger, adultery, divorce, oath taking and revenge. In each of these teachings, the Lord points out how simply keeping the letter of the law falls short of the intentions of the Law Giver--that one can keep the law without love and profit nothing.
As St. Paul explains in the first reading, God has "qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6). The law of the old covenant, Paul explains, was glorious--yet it is only a herald of death. The old law shows us that we are sinners who fall short of God's grace. The new law is the perfection and fulfillment of the old. It is the destination to which the old law pointed us. The new law of the Spirit brings life: it is a call to a purification of heart through, with and in Christ who will transform our way of being.
As a result of that transformation we will keep all of the law, not because we strain after the letter but because we are filled with a divine charity that allows us to live the intent upon which all of the commandments were based in the first place. We will avoid killing, lying or stealing not because of words carved in stone but because the sincere love neighbor is truly engraved in our hearts.
The question for us: Do we live our Catholic faith according to that new law of the Spirit? Do we surpass the letter of the law by living out charity toward God and neighbor? Or, like modern-day Pharisees, are we still focused on dissecting the rules and 'checking the right boxes' in our attempt to please God?