_Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
There are many things in the Old Testament that we would never have been able to understand if Jesus had not come. At the time of Jesus, many people were reading the Old Testament but could not understand it. When Jesus began His public ministry, many immediately recognised that there was something different about Him. He did not teach like other scribes, but those who heard Him could not refute His words.
The fact that Jesus’ style was so different yet captivating made many of His hearers assume that He had come to replace everything about the Old Testament. For instance, we would soon get to the part where Jesus would begin his statements with: “You have heard how it was said…” (stating an Old Testament practice), and then He would add: “But I say to you….”
Jesus needed to clarify that He did not come to abolish the Old Testament. Instead, He came to fulfil it. What, then, is “new” about the New Testament if it is not a replacement for the Old Testament? The newness of Jesus’ teaching is the revelation of the deeper meaning of what is already contained in the Old Testament – Jesus did not come to change the Scriptures; He came to bring them to life.
Today, Jesus tells us that if we desire to be great in the kingdom of heaven, we should not only strive to obey all of God’s commandments to the letter but also make efforts to teach them to others. Jesus says: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19)
This is the best explanation of Deuteronomy 28:58-59 which states: “If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies.”
Notice that both statements are the same, but while that of Deuteronomy was addressed to a people who were used to living under the bondage of slavery, that of Jesus carries total weight. God is not a policeman waiting to descend on us for the slightest offence. Even if we cannot observe all the commandments to the latter, we would still get to heaven, but then, we might have to settle for lower seats. But why settle for less? Why not aspire for the top places in heaven? Why not be like James and John, who came to Jesus demanding to sit at his left and right? Why not get ready to drink the chalice?
To sum it all up, we must go beyond the level of being mere listeners of God’s words. We must do what the word of God says. This again depends on the grace of God. St. Paul explains in today’s first reading that our competence comes from God.
Let us pray: Almighty Ever-Living God, free me from hypocrisy. Grant that I may be salt and light to the world. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11, Ps. 99:5-9, Matthew 5:17-19)*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu