On The Interpretation Of Matthew 5:171
By now you are probably familiar with my remonstrations that Lutherans need to learn how to read / hear Scripture. That we must rid ourselves of the Fundamentalist, a-ecclesiastical, a-sacramental, a-liturgical reading / hearing of it. Should we be so blessed as to accomplish this high goal I think that many of our ecclesiastical ills might also dissolve. In preparation for my sermon this Sunday I have studied Matthew 5:17ff and offer this translation, and explanation.
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fill them up. For truly I say to you that until heaven and earth should pass away not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen of the Law shall pass away, until all things should be accomplished.
Whoever, therefore, should do away with one of these commandments and teach others to do the same; he shall be known as "worthless" in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever practices and teaches them shall be called "great" in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees you shall in no wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 5:17-20
The Law (which should not be read as "decalogue / 10 commandments" but as Torah / instruction) and the Prophets set the table, as it were, for the appearance of our Lord. The Old Covenant was the beautifully set table that invites men to come and dine! It suggests and promises the richest fare and finest wine. (Isaiah 25:6). But Jesus is the food on the plate. The meal. Literally and in every way.
He is Heaven's Bread baked on the the cross, God's Lamb slaughtered on the tree in order to feed and nourish us to life. Men have always fed on him, his Word, his Body and his Blood, and still do. He is the content that is served at the table intellectually and theologically by faith. But also incarnationally. In the flesh then, now, and in the age to come when "they who pierced him will see him." (John 19:37) And so "to live IS Christ"! But to die, to enter "the life of the world to come" is Gain. (Philippians 1:21) Because it promises to be Full and Satisfying, Good and Godly and God-like in every way. "Let all mortal flesh be silent!"
The "fulfillment" of which the Lord speaks, however, is not merely a notion or asservation, but is "accomplished" by his sacrificial death which is the Perfect Offering of filial love to the Father. His death is the "passing away of heaven and earth," that is the end of the Old Creation ruined by sin, and of the Old Covenant; and it is the inception of the New Creation and composes the New Testament in his blood ... received by the baptized in Holy Communion with him.
And so we should try to get beyond our dogmatic reading of these words of our Lord, and hear them as they are meant. As Scripture. As the church's words gievn to the church, for the church, and to be read in the church. It is the language of men and of angels. (1 Corinthians 13:1)