At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issued
a solemn warning in which he presented God’s law, given on Sinai
during the first covenant, in light of the grace of theNewCovenant:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the
prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly
I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,
not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law, until all is
accomplished. Therefore, 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.
Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the
kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its
all-embracing detail—according to his own words, down to “the
least of these commandments.”
He is in fact the only one who
could keep it perfectly.
On their own admission the Jews were
never able to observe the Law in its entirety without violating the
least of its precepts.
This is why every year on the Day of
Atonement the children of Israel ask God’s forgiveness for their
transgressions of the Law. The Law indeed makes up one insepa-
rable whole, and St. James recalls, “Whoever keeps the whole law
but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
This principle of integral observance of the Law not only in letter
but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they
had led many Jews of Jesus’ time to an extreme religious zeal.
were it not to lapse into “hypocritical” casuistry,
could only prepare the
People for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect
fulfillment of the Law by the only Righteous One in place of all sinners.
The perfect fulfillment of the Law could be the work of
none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person
of the Son.
In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on
tables of stone but “upon the heart” of the Servant who becomes
“a covenant to the people,” because he will “faithfully bring forth