During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had just delivered his beatitudes, and he would follow right after with his teachings on the commandments. What did he mean when he told his discipes: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”?
The scribes and the pharisees were scholars of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. And they did their best to interpret and obey the commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Nevertheless, they failed to grasp their full meaning. By adding numerous regulations, designed to clarify and instill obedience to the commandments, they instead imposed burdensome legalism on the people.
On the Mount, Jesus, the New Moses, asserts himself as the authoritative interpreter of the Torah, superseding all previous understandings of the law. He brings forth a deeper and richer meaning. Jesus emphasizes that the essence of the Ten Commandments are to be summed up in two words, reverence and love. We are to reverence and love God. And we are to reverence and love one another. The whole of the law and the prophets rest on this. Jesus himself fulfills the law by his teaching and his life. Moreover, in his person, he fulfills all that the prophts had foretold.
Reverence and love — the essence of the commandments — will never pass away. During this season of Lent, we are called to remember that just as the Ten Commandments were operative for Jesus’ disciples 2,000 years ago, they remain in full force for us today: We are to love God and to love one another.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.