Christians, People of the New Covenant
Paul, defending his ministry against Jewish converts who insist on their prerogatives, states that the new covenant is superior to the old one as the life-giving Spirit is superior to the death-bringing law.
Jesus says something similar in words that at first sight seem to say the opposite: he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, that is, to give it deeper dimensions. What matters for us especially is that we must be aware that we live under the new law of love and that we are guided by the liberating Holy Spirit from servitude to the law.
1 Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11
Brothers and sisters: Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, was so glorious that the children of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of its glory that was going to fade, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, the ministry of righteousness will abound much more in glory. Indeed, what was endowed with glory has come to have no glory in this respect because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was going to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 99:5, 6, 7, 8, 9
R.(see 9c) Holy is the Lord our God.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his footstool;
holy is he! R.
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
and Samuel, among those who called upon his name;
they called upon the LORD, and he answered them. R.
From the pillar of cloud he spoke to them;
they heard his decrees and the law he gave them. R.
O LORD, our God, you answered them;
a forgiving God you were to them,
though requiting their misdeeds. R.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for holy is the LORD, our God. R.
Alleluia: Ps 25:4b, 5a
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Teach me your paths, my God,
and guide me in your truth.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
It would seem that the Christian community for which Matthew writes is pro-law and religiously conservative. It is certainly true that Jesus held the main lines of the Jewish law in respect, but to argue that he would uphold the law in all its features even to the end of the age exceeds the evidence. That he was God’s agent of fulfillment is certainly the case. But he was to be the author of a different type of observance, which went beyond simply observing the letter of the law.
Paul, as we know, takes a very different tack. For him the law had seen its day and was passing away. Its glory was a fading one. Giving his own interpretation of the brilliant face of Moses when he communed with God, Paul believed that Moses’ face was covered to conceal a glory that was passing away. For this reason he calls the ministry of Moses a ministry of death. The new ministry of the Spirit, however, is a glorious one that will not pass away. Paul does not see the ministry of the law as having permanent value. It is destined to pass away.
It is clear that the new covenant of Jesus, the covenant of the heart not written in stone, far surpasses that which preceded it. It is the covenant of which Jeremiah spoke, a covenant that comes from within. A covenant not written in stone but on the flesh of the heart. It is a covenant of love.
We belong to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Christianity can never be understood if it is detached from its Jewish roots. On the other hand we are not simply a law-observing people. We are made holy not by anything we do but because we have been graced and favoured. Christian fulfillment lies in the spirit not the letter. It is the response of a grateful heart.
The time is now. Repent and believe the good news. Come and follow me. Be my disciples. Jesus spoke these words long ago. He addresses them here and now to us. May you heed these words, with the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!