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Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: The Law


(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)


            The law can be seen as a guide for orderliness in society and it helps create the right balance and harmony in society. At the beginning of the Gospel Jesus emphasizes that, far from doing away with the law given by God in the Old Testament, he fulfills the purpose God originally intended for the law. And he fulfills it down to the smallest detail, that is, down to the innermost meaning God intended for it. This purpose was given at Sinai: “You shall be holy as I am holy” (Lev 11:44). Jesus repeats it in the Sermon on the Mount: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). That is the point of the commandments: whoever wishes to be in a covenant relationship with God must match God’s behavior and intent. All ten commandments say that. Jesus will show us that it is possible to fulfill the law and he will spend his entire life modeling its ultimate meaning for us, until “all (prophecy) has taken place” – all the way to the Cross and Resurrection. Thus, we are not being asked to do the impossible, as the first reading explicitly says: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments;” “to do God’s will” is nothing more than “loyalty”, that is, our effort to respond in gratitude to what he offers. “The command which I enjoin on you today does not exceed your capabilities, it is not unreachable, … for my word is very near to you, it is in your heart” (Deut. 30: 11, 14).

            “But I say to you” – In all these antitheses (“It was said to the ancients, but I say to you”) Jesus certainly seems virtually to replace the Old Covenant’s law with a new law. But the new law is nothing other than what is revealed by the ultimate intent and consequences of the old law. Jesus eliminates the rust with which man’s laxity and a comfortable minimizing interpretation of the law has covered him, revealing the shining purpose that God has already inserted into the law. For God there never was any contrast between Sinai’s law and Abraham’s faith. In their self-righteousness the “Pharisees and scribes” had not grasped this, and thus their “righteousness” had to be transcended in the direction of Abraham and, more profoundly, of Jesus. The covenant is an offer of reconciliation between God and man. Therefore, man must first be reconciled with his neighbor before he can approach God. God is eternally faithful in his covenant. Therefore, marriage between a man and woman should be a model of this faithfulness. God is truthful in his faithfulness. Therefore, man should stick to a true “yes” and “no”. All of this has to do with an ultimate decision: either I pursue myself and my success or I pursue God and his service: death or life. “Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him” (first reading).

            The radicalism with which Jesus interprets God’s law brings access to the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 5:20) or its loss, that is, hell (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30). Whoever follows God finds him and attains his Kingdom; whoever merely seeks his perfection in the law, loses him – forever, if he persists at it.

            The Laws of Christianity make it a religion like no other. It takes what is good in the culture and tradition before it, and improves on it, making it so much better than it ever had been. That was what Jesus did with the religion of his forebears, the Jewish religion. It is what the Church has been doing to people’s cultures and traditions wherever the gospel has been preached. Here in Ghana, for instance, the Church has taken and continues to take elements from the culture and traditions of our forefathers, that are not inherently pagan. She then works on them to improve them, so that they can be part of the way we profess and live our Christian faith as Ghanaians and Africans. It is what we call inculturation. It replicates what Jesus did with the culture and tradition of his forebears, what he did with the Law. Remember every law should has as its aim; the betterment of man. May the Laws of the God make us better people and love God and neighbor.


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