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148

Part One

I.

J

esus and

the

L

aw

577

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.

329

578

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.”

330

He is in fact the only one who

could keep it perfectly.

331

On their own admission the Jews were

never able to observe the Law in its entirety without violating the

least of its precepts.

332

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.”

333

579

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.

334

This zeal,

were it not to lapse into “hypocritical” casuistry,

335

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.

336

580

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.

337

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

329

Mt

5:17-19.

330

Mt

5:19.

331 Cf.

Jn

8:46.

332 Cf.

Jn

7:19;

Acts

13:38-41; 15:10.

333

Jas

2:10; cf.

Gal

3:10; 5:3.

334 Cf.

Rom

10:2.

335 Cf.

Mt

15:3-7,

Lk

11:39-54.

336 Cf.

Isa

53:11;

Heb

9:15.

337 Cf.

Gal

4:4.

1965

1967

1953

527