Each day for the next two weeks our first reading will be taken from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians; and although it contains some marvelous phrases, on the whole, it only represent’s Paul’s defense of his work. As such, it is not as helpful to us as his First Letter to the Corinthians.
Our Gospels for these two weeks are taken from Chapters Six and Seven of Matthew’s Gospel. They give us a good sampling of the Sermon on the Mount, and it might be helpful for us to review what Matthew was getting at in this most famous of all sermons.
The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in the year 70. Afterwards the conservative Jews settled in the town of Jamnia on the Mediterranean. After licking their wounds, they turned to puzzling out how a religion that had always had the temple as its core could survive without its temple.
They settled on making observance of the Law the essence of Jewish belief. For five hundred years leading up to that time their scribes had been adding precepts to the Law of Moses. Those precepts, known as the Mishna, covered a hundred times more scrolls than the rules recording in the Torah; and their scribes came to value them as highly as the Torah itself. They made up the story that the whole bulk of the Mishna actually came from Moses, and had been handed down orally.
At Jamnia, after they decided on making observance of the Law central to their lives they began looking around at the thousands of devout Jews who had also become devout Christians. They saw that the Jewish Christians had taken to mingling freely with unclean Gentile Christians. The people at Jamnia saw this as contrary to their understanding of Judaism. It had them telling the Jewish Christians they would need to choose to be either Christians or Jews, because they could not be both. The accusation they consistently leveled at the Christians was that their Jesus had come only to destroy the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew began his Sermon on the Mount by quoting Jesus as saying, “I came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.” From that Matthew, in today’s reading, went on to show us how Jesus was more than faithful to Moses. What Jesus did was to fulfill the Law of Moses, the way secondary education completes the work begun on the primary level.