daily biblical sermons


Jesus shows us the depth of the law of Moses, which he fulfills
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, 10th Week of the Year, June 11, 2020
Acts 11:21b-26, 13:1-3, Psalm 97, Matthew 5:20-26


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:21-24).

 

 

Just before today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us something of great importance, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). We might get the false impression that Jesus has come to abolish the law of God given through Moses to the chosen people, because we no longer follow in practice its ceremonial, sacrificial, and dietary prescriptions, like offering animals in sacrifice, ritually circumcising our children, following the dietary laws of not mixing milk products with meat at the same meal, and not eating certain types of unclean animals, like pork.

 

 

But the truth is that Jesus upholds the moral law and maintains the meaning even of the ceremonial, sacrificial, and dietary laws, without actually having us practice them. The dietary laws made it clear to the Jews that they were separate from all other peoples and they were to be a holy people, so they ate differently than other peoples and avoided unclean foods like pork. This helped to keep them separate from the impurities and sinfulness of the pagan world around them that lacked God’s revealed written law, even though they had the natural law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15).

 

 

The new people of God of the New Testament are also to be a holy people, separated from worldly values, customs, and practices and from all manner of immorality so common among non-Christian peoples and even among neo-pagans, who are former Christians that retain the name of Christian but have rejected much of basic Christian sexual morality and so are claiming all sorts of immoral practices, like abortion and homosexual sex, to be virtuous and good. Hence Christians also must be separate from this, just as the Jews had to be separate from the immorality and idolatrous beliefs of their pagan neighbors.

 

 

A perfect example of this is the German Catholic bishops who are now running a two yearlong Synod in Germany that is declaring all sorts of immoral abominations to be normal, acceptable Christian behavior, such as masturbation, homosexual sex, homosexual civil unions with a Church blessing, artificial contraception, and the use of sexual acts outside of a valid marriage, since they want divorced and remarried Catholics, who are living in a sexual union with a partner who is not their valid husband or wife, to receive Holy Communion in some cases (on all of this see here). This is a neo-pagan rejection of basic Christian sexual morality. A true Christian must reject and separate himself from these false neo-pagan values. So under the new covenant, Christians, like Jews, must be separate from the world in their moral life. Hence although Christians do not practice the ceremonial law, they cherish and honor the meaning that it has, namely separation from the evil, immoral practices of nonbelievers.

 

 

In terms of the moral law, Christ does not abolish it, but rather deepens and interiorizes it. He says today, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). So we see that Jesus not only does not reject the basic moral law that God revealed to Moses in the Ten Commandments, but on the contrary deepens and interiorizes it, making it even stricter than before.

 

 

Christians can also mistakenly think that Christ even abolished the moral law of Moses, because of St. Paul’s doctrine that we are not justified by our good works or by keeping the moral law. So this needs to be clarified. It is true that St. Paul says, “No human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). St. Paul’s doctrine is that we are justified by faith, not by works, for he says, “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Romans 3:28). When St. Paul says law here, he means the whole law, which contains both moral and ceremonial aspects.

 

 

So as Christians we must emphasize that law keeping (keeping the moral law) will not justify us before God. No person can justify himself before God by keeping God’s moral law and by doing good works. This is one of the most fundamental Christian teachings that show us how important Christ’s atoning death on the cross is, for it alone justifies us. Jesus alone makes up for our sins by suffering their punishment for us on the cross so that when we put our faith in him, God counts his suffering and death as just punishment for our sins and therefore acquits us of them and declares us righteous (justifies us).

 

 

So what justifies us? Objectively it is Christ’s death, but subjectively for our part it is our faith in Christ and in his saving death, for our faith is what enables God to declare us ungodly sinners righteous (justify us). Our good works have nothing whatsoever to do with our justification before God. This could lead people to the false conclusion that somehow Christ has abolished even the moral law. But this is a false conclusion that people come to who do not have a proper understanding of the teaching of St. Paul.

 

 

So what is the function of the moral law, revealed by God through Moses, for a Christian? St. Paul tells us right off, “No human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). The function of the law is to make us aware of how sinful we are. If there were no law revealed by God and written down in the Scriptures, many people would be unsure as to what is moral and what is immoral, especially in sexual ethics, as we can see today just by looking at a newspaper. All sorts of people are now proclaiming many immoral and abominable practices as perfectly normal, healthy, and good, such as the German Catholic bishops. It is now the month of June, when normally there are all kinds of gay pride parades promoting homosexual acts and other abominations as good and normal behavior.

 

 

So we need God’s moral law together with the natural law to be certain what is moral and what is immoral. Once we know that, then we know how sinful we are, because no one has ever perfectly kept God’s moral law throughout his life from his earliest days to the present. Everyone can look at the written law which is clear and unambiguous and see that he is a sinner destined for eternal punishment. This then causes us to seek salvation by listening to the preaching of the gospel and by accepting it with faith as the solution to our sin and guilt problem.

 

 

So the law leads us to Christ and to faith in the gospel; and faith in Christ, through hearing the gospel, leads us to be justified by God. So the law leads us to the gospel, and the gospel leads us to justification, when we accept it with faith.

 

 

But is this the end of the law for us? Is it just to lead us to Christ? No! The law always remains before us showing us what is moral and what is immoral. Now that we have been saved from our sins by our faith in the gospel, how are we supposed to live as Christians? We are supposed to live according to God’s normative biblically revealed moral law. So the law first gives us knowledge of our sins, which leads us to Christ and the gospel, which then leads us to justification if we put our faith in it.

 

 

Then the moral law shows us how we as justified Christians are now supposed to live. And the new grace of our justification, whereby we are made “new men” in Christ, enables us to keep God’s moral law. God’s moral law shows us what kind of behavior we are to avoid and what kind of behavior we are to practice. When we do so, we grow in holiness (sanctification), which God will reward on the last day (Matthew 16:27).

 

 

So how should we now live as justified Christians? Today’s gospel gives us one example, namely that we should seek to be reconciled with people that we have offended. This is part of the deeper meaning of God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” We should do everything in our power to reconcile ourselves with those that have been offended by us.

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