Week of Proper 5: Wednesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Moses Receiving Then Delivering the Law

Jesus Expands, Not Negates, the Law

JUNE 14, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 3:4-11 (An American Translation):

Such is the confidence that I have through Christ in my relations to God.  Not that I am of myself qualified to claim anything as originating with me.  My qualification is from God, and he has qualified me to serve him in the interests of a new agreement, not in writing, but of spirit.  For what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life.

But if the religion of death, carved in letters of stone, was ushered in with such splendor, so that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face on account of the brightness that was fading from it, why should not the religion of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?  If there was splendor in the religion of condemnation, the religion of uprightness must far surpass it in splendor.  For in comparison with its surpassing splendor, what was splendid has come to have no splendor at all.  For if what faded away came with splendor, how much more splendid what is permanent must be!

Psalm 99 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

let the people tremble;

he is enthroned upon the cherubim;

let the earth shake.

2 The LORD is great in Zion;

he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome;

he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

5 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and fall down before his footstool;

he is the Holy One.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,

and Samuel among those who call upon his Name,

they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;

they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 “O LORD our God, you answered them indeed;

you were a God who forgave them,

yet punished them for their evil deeds.”

9 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and worship him upon his holy hill;

for the LORD our God is the Holy One.

Matthew 5:17-19 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not suppose that I have come to do away with the Law or the Prophets.  I have not come to do away with them but to complete them.  For I tell you, as long as heaven and earth endure, not one dotting of an i or crossing of a t will be dropped from the Law until it is all observed.  Anyone, therefore, who weakens one of the slightest of these commands, and teaches others to do so, will be ranked lowest in the Kingdom of Heaven; but anyone who observes them and teaches others to do so will be ranked high in the Kingdom of Heaven.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Classical Christian teaching, at least from the times of St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine of Hippo, holds that Jesus, by his Incarnation, expanded, not replaced, the covenant embodied in the Law of Moses.  I find no fault and much merit in this point of view.

Greek word meanings matter.  Consider, then, the term “new agreement” from 2 Corinthians.  This is “new covenant” in other translations.  I focus on the word “new,” which, in this case, is kainos.  This word indicates both newness in chronology and in quality.  So, to combine elements of lections, Jesus fulfilled, or completed the Mosaic Law by expanding it from the legalistic strictures into which the religious establishment had placed it.  Our Lord and Savior violated many ritual laws, of course, but he honored the spirit of the Law, which is to love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  The Law, which was temporary but long-lived, pointed to Jesus, who endures.  So 2 Corinthians 3:4-11 does not indicate supercessionism.  Neither does Matthew 5:17-19.

The Apostle Paul was brilliant and his theology was profound.  There are two essential keys to much of this theology, however.  They are (1) grace and (2) Christ crucified.  Paul preached Christ crucified.  And grace permeates the Pauline epistles.  This unearned favor saves us from what we deserve.  Grace trumps legalistic purity codes.  Grace bestows life in God.

As I have written more than once in other blog posts, a clever legalist can find ways to manipulate a religious law code to made sin look like righteousness.  This version of alleged piety is self-serving, and Jesus condemend it in the canonical gospels.  But there is no law of God against loving one’s neighbor as oneself.  Obeying this rule makes minding a host of minute details unnecessary while it honors the spirit of much of God’s law.  Let us begin there.  Let us see the forest, not just the trees.

That will be surpassing splendor indeed.



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