Matthew continues the Sermon on the Mount with a three part instruction by Jesus on the Way of Life in the kingdom of heaven. Today’s reading is part one and deals with the Law. Part two deals with worship and religious practice and contains the Lord’s Prayer. Part three deals with trusting God and deeds of loving service to our neighbour.
When Matthew speaks of “the Law and the prophets” he means the whole Scripture. When the Messiah brings the fullness of the kingdom none of scripture will be done away with. Instead it will be fulfilled. Matthew’s Jesus does not overturn the Law of Moses, nor does he set his followers free from the Law. He requires his followers to go beyond the Law by doing more than the Law requires.
The Law condemned murder. Jesus condemns anger. The Law condemned adultery. Jesus condemns even lustful looks. As Jewish Christians who had always been faithful to the Law, Matthew’s community need a way to understand the difference Jesus and the kingdom he brings, have made. They affirmed that God had always been at work in history through “the Law and the prophets.” But God’s work goes beyond that to be embodied by the Messiah who reveals the definitive will of God. The written scriptures and their interpretation in tradition are surpassed by Jesus whose life and teaching are the definitive revelation of the will of God.