Showing posts with label Ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ethics. Show all posts

Monday, March 25, 2019

Anger Without Cause: A Prophetic Motif of Destroying the Law











For those interested, I recently completed a paper on the subject of anger and murder in Matthew 5:21-22, and its relationship with the Decalogue (among other things). The title of that paper is, Anger Without Cause: A Prophetic Motif of Destroying the Law

That paper can be viewed in the link on the side bar called "Theological Essays." The direct link to the paper can be found here.












Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pathways to Immaturity






One man writes a story
The surrounding tribe rises to the occasion
To drill into
To warn others about
They must save the world
As guardians of the galaxy
Prophets commissioned to bear the good news
That their story is the only true story
And they aren’t alone
They have a whole tradition that reaches way, way back
A whole five hundred years
Or slightly more
Even more important 
Is their book
God is there
God is everywhere
But especially there
As guardians of the good news
They protect God from all opposition
Tearing down every stronghold
And every philosophy
And empty deceit
As guardians of God
One word says one thing
But they know their great scary book has more words than one
To pick out and shove into the conversation
Or better yet
To shove in front of the conversation
So as to protect all the innocents
From all unapproved conversation
Misleading them into darkness
Sliding them down the backward path of human tradition
They know the one in whom the fulness of deity dwells bodily
They know the circumcision of Christ
As guardians of the head of all rule and authority
They must bind their nobles with fetters of iron
To freely instruct the blind
To graciously feed the hungry
The whole clan must not become divided 
Or else one mans story will prevail






Friday, November 16, 2018

Penitent & Priest, Confession & Absolution





As I recently reviewed some of the poetry I had written within the past year, I reflected upon the state of Christianity I observe all around me today and the way in which I expressed aspects of it poetically. After stumbling upon a poem about Christian contrition and confession, it dawned on me that confession is an important—indeed essential—sacrament needing reconsideration and retrieval. 

Growing up as a Protestant I was only familiar with the pop-culture view of Catholicism and confession within that Church (you know, the kind that is either still at war with “unbiblical” medieval views, or the kind that treats everything outside their own non-catholic tribe as “superstitious”, "fictitious",  "magical", or "blasphemous"). Today I recalled some conversations I have had with both kinds of protestant diatribalists, about the so-called “unbiblical sacraments”, and none strikes me as being more misunderstood than the sacrament of Confession. 

There are numerous obstacles in the way of maintaining an edifying conversation about that. I would like to cut through the messiness of how such conversations typically begin. Deflecting attention away from the first obstacle, which is even considering Confession as a sacrament, I think that the most important way of helping Protestants recognize the legitimacy and helpfulness of private confession and absolution to a priest or pastor is to see what Catholic confession can and does actually look like today. I mention this because the most common criticism I have come across has to do with the Roman rite of confession. (You know, the kind that sort of, in a crass way, is portrayed as quick and painless: “Bless me Father for I have sinned…yada, yada, yada. Okay, now go out and say five hail Mary’s and two Our Father’s, and you’re good to go.”)

That might be the way Roman (Western) rite confession is practiced. I seriously doubt that it represents the majority. I have not personally been to confession in a Roman Catholic parish, but I have asked a lot of Roman Catholic friends what they’re experiences were like, and have received a lot of positive, detailed feedback that the kind of priests and parishes which tolerate such pathetic, and somewhat comical confessional practices are not popular, and are not common in the northern midwest regions of America (around where we live). But even if the majority of Catholic parishes practiced confession in such a fashion today (and again, admittedly, I don't actually know how the majority of Roman priests practice it), that is not how Catholic confession operates in Eastern rite parishes. And this, I do have experience in practicing. As a Byzantine Greek Catholic who has celebrated with a handful of parishes across the USA, I can actually dispel some of the “superstitious magic” which Protestants imagine the sacrament of Confession to be instilling.

How might I attempt to dispel such prevailing protestant myths of our era?  

The answer: By illustrating the actual rite of confession within Eastern Orthodox and Catholic parishes. 

My hope, again, is to dispel some of the worrisome and comical “fictions” which Protestants imagine are occurring at every confession within the Catholic Church, and to show plainly through the rite itself how “Biblical” it actually is (and should be considered to remain). That should help provide a framework for Protestants to consider, if not rethink altogether, the possibility of private confession to an ordained minister of Jesus Christ as a healthy practice to retrieve (as even the mighty Protestant icon, John Calvin, begrudgingly implied as a theoretical possibility, long ago1). 

Assuming that a man was to receive the sacrament of Confession, here is how it might look in an Eastern parish: 

First, the penitent Christian approaches the iconostasis located in the front of the Church, beyond all the pews, and stands before an icon of Jesus Christ. The priest draws near and says: 
My brother, inasmuch as you have come to God, and to me, do not be ashamed; for you do not speak to me, but to God, before Whom you stand. If you are able, please kneel before Christ our God 

Facing Jesus and looking attentively to Him, the penitent Christian might then begin with a formal and general declaration, such as: “I have sinned, O Lord, forgive me. O God, be merciful to me a sinner”, followed by more specific details.  

*** 

Or the penitent might just speak to Christ, confess sins generally, followed by the priest questioning him to draw out more specific details about specific sins. (It is especially helpful that priests of the Eastern Catholic rite carry on a conversation in a very practical manner, questioning, encouraging, seeking understanding, and challenging the penitent toward serious consideration of the graveness involved, consequently or actually, by the sins committed and confessed.) 

***

When the confession to Jesus is complete, the priest places his stole over the head of the penitent and speaks to the penitent: 

My spiritual child, who have confessed before your humble servant, I, an unworthy sinner, do not have the power on earth to forgive sins. God alone has that power; yet through that divinely spoken word which came to the apostles after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained,” we too are given boldness to say: Whatever you have said to me, and whatever you have not succeeded in saying, either through ignorance or through forgetfulness, whatever it may be, God alone forgives you in this present world and in that which is to come.  

Or the priest says instead:

O God our Savior, who by Your prophet Nathan granted the repentant David pardon of his transgressions, and accepted Manasseh’s prayers of repentance: In Your customary love toward mankind, accept also this Your servant, who is here before You to repent of the sins which he has committed. Overlook all that he has done, pardon his offenses, and pass by his iniquities. For You have said, O Lord: “I do not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live,” and that “sins should be forgiven seventy times seven.” For Your majesty is beyond compare, and Your mercy is without measure, and if You should mark iniquity, who could stand?  For You are the God of the penitent, and unto You we ascribe glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.  

Then the priest makes the sign of the Cross over the penitent, touching his head, saying: 

May God, Who pardoned David through Nathan the prophet when he confessed his sins, and Peter weeping bitterly for his denial, and the sinful woman weeping at His feet, and the publican and the prodigal son, may that same God forgive you all things, through me a sinner, both in this world and in the world to come, and set you uncondemned before His terrible judgment seat. 

And now, having no further anxiety for the sins which you have confessed, go in peace. 

*** 

Also, if time and circumstances allow, it is proper for the penitent to learn the customary prayers of the Church, formulated by the Scriptures, and to respond, facing Jesus, with such prayers as: 

O almighty and merciful God, I truly thank You for the forgiveness of my sins; bless me, O Lord, and help me always, that I may ever do that which is pleasing to You, and sin no more. Amen.  

Or this might be prayed instead: 

O Lord God of my salvation, the Savior and Benefactor of my soul, I am truly sorry for my every transgression, and I firmly resolve never again to offend You by such sins, and sincerely promise to amend my way of life. Implant in me the fear of Your blessed commandments, that I may trample down all carnal appetites and may lead a godly life, both thinking and doing always such things as are pleasing to You. Grant me the strength of Your Holy Spirit, that I may avoid all evil deeds, works, words, and thoughts, and may avoid all snares of the evil one. Shine in my heart with the true Sun of Your righteousness; enlighten my mind and guard all my senses, that walking uprightly in the way of Your statutes, I may attain life eternal. Amen.  

Or the penitent might pray instead: 

O sovereign Master, Who love mankind, lead me in Your way, that I may walk in Your truth. Make glad my heart, that I may fear Your holy name. O Lord, mighty in mercy, gracious in strength, aid and comfort and save me, as I put my trust in Your holy name. Do not rebuke me, O Lord, in Your displeasure, nor punish me in Your wrath, but show me Your great mercy and compassion, O Physician and Healer of my soul. O merciful Savior, blot out all my transgressions, for I am truly sorry for having offended You. Grant me Your grace that I may avoid my previous evil ways. Strengthen me, O mighty One, to withstand those temptations before which I am weak, that I may avoid all future sin. Keep me under Your protection and in the shadow of Your wings, that I may serve You, praise You, and glorify You all the days of my life. Amen. 








1. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, chapters 14 through 17), Calvin presents a scandalous case against the Roman (Western) practice of Confession in his own day, which transitioned from public confessions and absolutions to private ones. In doing so, Calvin was, of course, attempting to distinguish the domineering Roman expression of faith from Christianity altogether. In those three brief chapters (14-17) Calvin attempts to dissuade his audience from believing the long standing doctrine about Confession as a Sacrament (which he, of course, considered to be Divine requirements, and not merely things indifferent). In chapter 14 Calvin admits that he wholeheartedly approves of the ancient practice that required public confession and absolution, but his rationale against the sacrament of private confession to a priest or Bishop is very brief and seems almost entirely anecdotal, overlooking many pertinent counter-rationales from Scripture and history, and all pertaining merely to the Roman rite illustrated within his own era. In other words, even if Calvin was accurate in his reasoning against private confession as a sacrament of Christ's Church, he strangely leaves plenty of room for disagreement, introducing it and dismissing it rather quickly.











Monday, September 3, 2018

Living Epistle (A poem for Wilma Sedlak)







As I write these things my Grandmother, Wilma, is dying. She has reached the point of no return. There is no hope in her being miraculously preserved to live a handful of more years in her mortal body. She has already lived past ninety years. Now she is hospitalized, and unresponsive, yet still alive as of right now. She will die.

I love Wilma. She radiated God's generosity, thoughtfulness, and loyal love. As the only Grandmother I ever knew (my birth mother's side being entirely unknown to me), proverbial Wisdom echoed in every room she resided, in every phone call, in every note and hand-written card. God's handwriting was written large through her life. A "Living Epistle" read by all, is an apt description of all memories I have of her.

I spoke with her last week on the phone. I'm so very glad I answered the phone that day. She lives very far away from me, but very soon she will be nearer than most Christians realize, being with Eternal Life, Who is much nearer than most realize. 

I am at peace with her impending death. Death actually isn't her end. It is for many of us, but certainly not hers. She will continue to live beyond the moment her frail, mortal body "gives up" its life. She will continue to live beyond mortal death because, in Christ, there is no mortality, no eternal death. There is only eternal life, because Christ is God, and only in God is life-eternal, and only through Jesus Christ our God has eternal death been defeated and eternal life secured. Outside of Christ, there is just this mortal life, and just this mortal death. I'm not the judge of those outside of Christ. I'm not even the judge of those inside of Christ. I'm merely expressing, with absolute certainty, that Wilma's life has testified, and continues witnessing to participation in Eternal Life, here and now, and not in eternal death. 

"In dying, you shall die" was the warning given to human life. In Jesus, the resurrected Christ, there is no more warning--only blessing--saying, "In dying, you shall be raised with Me to life."

So then, what else could I say, given my convictions about the life and death of my grandmother? 

Well, I actually have a poem I wrote recently, inspired by a Byzantine hymn that is sung during Saturday morning lenten prayer services in the Byzantine Catholic Church, that I'd like to share, too. Consider it a meditation on what I have noted above, and a pattern of thoughts woven through many of my convictions, hopes, and dreams, all keeping my thoughts in balance in the midst of life's real turmoils:



In dying you will die
Do good
In dying you will die

Don't ask why
Do good
Don't ask why

Don't question who
Do good
Don't question who

There are no but's
Do good
There are no but's

Don't pretend to know better
Do good
Don't pretend to know better

Don't deflect
Don't ignore
Just do good

How, you ask? 

Imagine God
Becoming human
So that you can become divine

Participating
Sharing
Communing 

In the Divine Life
For ever
And ever

Who fashioned you 
Out of nothingness
With the work of His hands

Who honored you 
With the Divine Image 
The likeness of Unutterable Glory.

Whose loyal love cleanses you
Whose homeland of your heart’s desire 
Is bestowed on you






Saturday, August 18, 2018

Loving to Know






What does it take?
...
To reach the point of no return
To say, I can't anymore
I don't even want to anymore
I need You
I want You
For ever more than now
Don't fix things for me—Fix me
Fix all of me or none of me
In Your mercy exact justice
I trust Your judgment—I don't trust mine
I deserve it
What ever that is 

I'm more than a fool
Lost without You
Leading others astray from the Holy
Feet running swiftly toward the void
None of my paths are peace
I only know how to survive
And not very well
When You serve me justice I will need more 

That stream which I poisoned
How can it be purified?
I don't trust my passions
I don't trust in flesh anymore
I used You as my crutch 
I polluted wells
For fun or out of spite
You were elevator music to me
I never had to learn Your rhythm
You were just there in the background
For my listening pleasure
Or to annoy me
As evil as that sounds
It's true 

Now I don't want to live without You
Have mercy on me
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies
Heal my soul
For I have sinned against You
Give me life or give me death
I know what I deserve
Whatever You choose
Do so for the sake of Your name alone
My name isn't worthy
Uproot and plant anew
Kill and make alive

As You wish
Thy will be done
Not mine
I just want what You want
Happy is he that findeth
Happy is he that getteth
Happy is he that retaineth
Happy is he
...
What must I do now? 










Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sermon on the Mount: Sections C & C' (part 4)




In the last post of this series about the Sermon on the Mount we discussed the significance of a necessary change in the Law once “all has happened.” I also argued for a first century fulfillment of when all that happened. Now I want to focus our attention on Jesus’ statements about “the least of these commandments.” Matthew 5:17-20 records the following words of Jesus:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all has happened. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 


People often assume that “the least of these commandments” referred to the commandments of “the Law.” Moreoever, the “Law” allegedly referred to the first “five books of Moses” (although nowhere within the Bible itself does it claim that Moses wrote all five books, or even that the final canonical form we currently have were altogether penned by his hand, thereby forming “the Law” as evangelicals understand it today, but I digress.) Although contemporary claims about “the least of these commandments” referring to the least of Gods commandments within the first five books of Moses is not entirely impossible, it is certainly not a crystal clear connection either.  

Alternatively, the perspective I will be endorsing is that “the least of these commandments” was definitely a reference to the least of God’s commandments, but instead of those commands recorded in the first five books of Moses, Jesus was actually referring to his own words and teaching—that is to say, his own divine commandments to them, which would be considered trivial by many first century Israelites because of the “just-ness” endorsed by Pharisaical and scribal traditions.

I’m certainly not alone in this interpretation. The great St. Augustine also concurred, saying:
But whoever observes them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,’ is to be understood in this sense, namely, not according to the measure of those least commandments, but in accordance with those which I [Jesus] am about to proclaim. 

Pseudo-Chrysostom also shared the same train of thought:
Let us see what are the least of the commandments. Some people hold to one interpretation and others to another, but I think that the Lord clearly shows what they are when he pointedly says, ‘If someone relaxes one of the least of these commandments,” that is, ‘the ones that I am about to say.’

A handful of internal, contextual remarks suggest this to have been the intended meaning. First, neither the “Law” (Genesis—Deuteronomy) or the “Prophets” are merely a set of “commandments” to be obeyed. The Law contains commandments (almost all of which relate to the Tabernacle/Temple), but it mostly consists of stories about human experience & God’s interaction which ought to be trusted. Secondarily, within Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus never appeals to any commandment within Moses’ “Law” without also clarifying how He thinks that commandment ought to be interpreted ethically. Jesus says, “You have heard it said….But I say to you…”. Surely that was a tell-tale signal to his audience that his own words—independent of whatever traditions the people had learned about Moses’s Law—were to be received as authoritative commands. Otherwise Jesus would have simply quoted Moses’ Law and not commented or critiqued traditional interpretations at all! 

Another factor worth noting is that every explicit reference to obedience within Matthew’s Gospel has to do with what Jesus teaches authoritatively, and not merely what “the Law” of Moses recorded. Take, for example, the way Matthew frames the entire Sermon on the Mount, beginning in 4:23ff, in preparation for Jesus to ascend the mountain and give the law, surrounded by crowds, as the new and greater Moses figure:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

At the end of the Sermon, when Jesus descends the mountain surrounded by crowds (7:28-8:1), Matthew makes clear that Jesus’ words were authoritative: 
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.


The overall literary purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to portray Jesus as the new and greater Moses, the new and greater Lawgiver of Israel. But these are not the only times within Matthew’s Gospel that we find Jesus’ words and overall message as authoritative. Later on, within this same sermon, Jesus makes it very clear as to whose commands the people ought to obey in order to live:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (7:24–29)

Echoing Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus mentions the authority of his own words the people of Israel in the first century:
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:32-34)


This really shouldn’t be a disputed fact. St. Augustine wasn’t alone in believing that Jesus was referring to his own words. And I’m not alone in believing that “the least of these commandments” were the least of Jesus’ commandments either. A whole litany of references from the Gospels should be conclusive enough:
  Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like (Luke 6:47)
  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)
  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)
  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:47)
  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples (John 8:31)
  I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. (John 8:37)
  Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (John 8:43)
  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
  The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ (John 8:52)
  If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:47)
  The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:48)
  Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:24)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)
  Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:20)

If we go back to Jesus’ statement about filling full the Law and the Prophets, and we walk through the entirety of Matthew’s Gospel with that promise in mind, it seems that the goal of fulfilling “the Law and the Prophets” was to crown Jesus as the only human being in the cosmos, having ascended above all principalities and powers in the cosmos, with authority over all things. Therefore obedience to the voice of the Lord Jesus was to be the sine qua non of entrance into his heavenly Kingdom, as well as the means toward fulfilling all that was lacking under the Old Covenant.
Also, in light of what has been said already in this series, and contrary to all false accusations which would be thrown against 1st century Christians by their anti-Christian Jewish communities, it needs to be emphasized for the sake of abundant clarity that Jesus did not abolish “the Law” or “the first five books of Moses,” or even old testament “biblical commands.” As we will see in upcoming posts in this series, Jesus clearly upheld the Law. He even gave clarity to the Law in ways which the scribes and Pharisees did not, because their focus seemed to always be upon the letter of the Law and not the character of God throughout the Scriptures.
Understanding the character of God throughout the Scriptures is crucial to understanding the authority of Jesus. 
I realize that this might come across as a shock to many Christians today, but a thorough investigation of the Old Testament Scriptures teaches that throughout Israel’s history God actually did not behave rigorously (i.e. Pharisaically or “legalistically”) according to the letter of His own Law. Instead, we find God far more often to be extremely patient and long-suffering, kind and merciful, gracious and forgiving, and not always rendering swift and stern justice, as His own Law demands
Now you might be wondering, how does is this relevant to Matthew 5:17-20 at all? 
It’s relevant because we often end up confused about what “commands” Jesus does and does not require us to keep under the New Covenant. Some theories say that Jesus requires us to keep every jot and tittle of Moses’ Law, including the dietary laws. Other theories say that Jesus abolished the entirety of God’s commands to the people of Israel. But the reality is that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets! He came to fill them full—to reveal that patient, long-suffering, merciful, gracious, and perfectly just and appropriately wrathful God to Israel. Jesus came to put flesh and bones on the image of God Himself as revealed throughout the Scriptures. Christians often don’t see Jesus as wrathful or angry because we are not looking at the New Testament Scriptures in light of God’s Holy Law. And we often don’t see the God of the Old Testament as being patient, long-suffering, or merciful because we are not looking at the “Prophets” in light of God’s Law. 
It is precisely because the foundational Law of God has been “filled full” in Jesus’ ministry, that Jesus and his apostles tell the Church to build the rest of God’s Temple upon them, by obedience to the Law of God, which is also the Law of Christ. 
   For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just-ness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4) 
  For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled by you in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15) 
   This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
   …For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law, that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (I Corinthians 9)

By obeying the voice of the Lord Jesus and teaching others to do the same, the “righteousness” (i.e. their just-ness) of Jesus’ disciples would exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Only those who trusted and obeyed Jesus would enter the Kingdom of Heaven that was about to come. Those who trusted and obeyed the scribes and Pharisees would be cut off.


Jesus did come to bring about necessary changes of the Law—especially in light of the Temple’s soon coming destruction—but he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. All of the necessary changes were centered on life under the old creation, in which the temple in Jerusalem were central and essential. If Jesus had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, the temple in Jerusalem could no longer remain central. The Temple of His Body had to become central. 

The least of his commands had to be kept to definitively end the old covenant, and the least of his commandments still need to be kept in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.