On the many occasions I meet people who sit light to actual Christian belief but find themselves for whatever reason working in a Christian institution, they tend to tell me how much they respect “Christian values.” Just what these values are depends very much on the speaker and, possibly, which newspaper they read. Yet Jesus’ words to us this week suggest that a mere list of “values” misses the point.
Jesus tells his disciples that their virtue must go “deeper” than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Punctilious obedience to the Law is not enough. And yet, Jesus’ words are predicated on the stern admonition of Mt 5.17 that He “has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” but “to fulfil them.”
Do not underestimate the scandal of this claim. Jesus is saying that the sacred Law, which the Pharisees regarded as divinely dictated by God Himself to Moses, is not in itself enough. It needs His interpretation.
It is in light of this claim that we are to read Jesus’ deeper interpretations of individual laws in Sunday’s Gospel. Each begins with the phrase, “you have heard it said.” Jesus then retorts to each Law, “but I say this to you…”
The key here is the “I.” Jesus is inserting Himself into the Law, even claiming to be the fulfilment of that Law. Only God can edit God’s Law, which is why Jesus can only be either God or the most reprobate blasphemer.
If Christ is not God, “Christian values” are just blasphemy, sacrilegious tinkering with God’s written Law. But if He is, then the Law of the New Testament is written not on tablets of stone but in the hearts of those who are joined with Christ, our living Law, in faith.
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.